AS South Africa emerges from the darkness of apartheid and lurches toward democracy, we are being treated to some astonishing scenes.
President Frederik de Klerk, the Afrikaner heir of a party that long stood for white supremacy, is shown in newspapers around the world dressed in tribal regalia, campaigning for black votes in the election due April 27.
Nelson Mandela, the long-imprisoned leader of South Africa's black nationalist movement, is photographed in natty Western dress, reassuring anxious whites that when his government is installed it will be moderate and not vindictive.
Although Mr. De Klerk will rally most of the whites, and Mr. Mandela most of the blacks, both leaders are campaigning for votes across racial lines. Therein lies a minor miracle: This rich and beautiful country, which many of us over the years have feared would explode in violent racial warfare, is inching toward a multiracial society where there will be political equality.
Though there is violence in South Africa today, it is not the nationwide blood bath that had loomed. Dramatic change is coming about through conventional politicking, not by the knife and the gun. Even a decade ago, transition by such relatively orderly means seemed unthinkable.
There are negatives. There are extremists both black and white. There is some violence, mainly between black tribesmen. There are occasional terrorist attacks against whites.
But in the moderate center, De Klerk and Mandela are pushing ahead, apparently carrying the bulk of the populace toward constitutional change at the ballot box.
De Klerk is troubled by white extremists threatening revolt against the coming new order. Over the weekend they rallied in the traditional Afrikaner citadel of Pretoria, demanding an enclave to which disaffected whites could retreat from the incoming black government. Their Afrikaner Volksfront, as it is called, has the potential for mischief, especially as it is supported by a number of former military generals. But polls show that Volksfront members are losing conservative white support. Most whites accept the inevitability of black rule.
Whites are not alone in challenging the stability of the impending new government. The Inkatha Freedom Party - comprised mainly of Zulus, whose homeland is Natal province - has been difficult and disruptive to the political process as its leader, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, seeks special privileges. He calls for the ``politics of resistance'' and, like the white Afrikaners, demands a kind of autonomous region that would insulate his people from the central government, expected to be headed by Mandela.
So far, De Klerk and Mandela have kept the political process on track, nudging supporters, stiffening waverers, seeking to dissuade those who would wreck it. Assuming they can hold the line, the real challenge comes after the election and is not political but economic.
Although apartheid was intended to separate the races, it also subjugated nonwhites economically. With apartheid nearly gone, many blacks expect after the election to enjoy white living standards. Those expectations are unrealistic, at least in the short term. Although South Africa is rich in minerals, its economy must undergo vast development before its poor black majority can rise to the affluent standards of the hitherto privileged white minority.
To achieve this, South Africa must attract foreign investors, who need to be convinced that the climate for investment is friendly. As Mandela is assuring white South Africans that they have a place in the new South Africa, so too he is assuring foreign investors that they are welcome.
They need such assurance in light of the recently published economic program of Mandela's African National Congress. Though Mandela once embraced such socialist concepts as nationalization, he has distanced himself from them since his release from prison. However, to achieve compromise among disparate ANC factions the plan retains socialist overtones.
Wooing investors from abroad is every bit as critical for South Africa's new leadership as is the wooing of dissident political factions at home.