The Right Direction

PERSISTENCE and patience are paying dividends for South Africa's transition to black majority rule.

Without downplaying the difficulties that remain or the political violence occurring, it is encouraging to see the so-called Freedom Alliance begin to break up as members, however tentatively, register their parties for the country's April 26-28 vote to establish a transition government.

The breakup began when Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi provisionally registered his Inkatha Freedom Party Feb. 28 after talks with African National Congress President Nelson Mandela. They agreed to submit remaining political disputes to international mediation. Mr. Buthelezi's move was matched by Gen. Constand Viljoen, a leader of the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront. Although the AVF's executive committee repudiated the move, General Viljoen drew support from former South African Defense Force generals who joined the AVF, along with several conservative legislators in the group.

Given the holdouts' untenable positions in the face of a historic, progressive change, their brinkmanship is clearly aimed at gaining maximum leverage prior to April's vote. Already, Buthelezi has forced the ANC to agree to a more federalist government structure than it would like, with greater powers devolving to the provinces.

But for any black leader to try to dissuade his people from voting - particularly through fear-mongering - is illegitimate; it denigrates the aspirations already long denied by decades of apartheid rule. This is clear in Bophuthatswana, the black ``independent homeland'' whose leader is resisting the elections and the reincorporation of his territory into South Africa proper. The region is being hit by strikes that include demands for participation in the elections. And for the white ultra-right wing to demand a separate ``homeland'' in a country where blacks are a majority everywhere is to ask for a variation of ethnic cleansing, which is anathema to the concept of a truly democratic South Africa.

Mr. Mandela struck the right note recently: ``We must develop an absolute patience and the ability to understand the fears of others.'' To the extent practical, he must continue working to ease those fears.

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