The White-Black Duo Who Negotiated South Africa's Peace Tell Their Secrets

SOUTH Africa's last white and first black presidents disagree on many issues, but agree on one major point -- the secret to the success of their country's peaceful transition to black rule.

President Nelson Mandela and his white predecessor Frederik de Klerk -- joint recipients of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end apartheid -- reflected on the first year of all-race democracy in two separate meetings with foreign correspondents on April 23 and 24.

The two men, whose supporters were once locked into a virtual war, said the key to their coalition government, which has served as a model for the rest of Africa, was simple -- talk frankly, tolerate criticism, and seek consensus.

''We come from different backgrounds. The marvel is that we have been able to work together so well over the past few months,'' Mr. Mandela said. It is because ''the leadership has the capacity to discuss problems.''

Mr. De Klerk, now the country's second deputy president, has had to adapt from the post of No. 1 and accept playing second fiddle to Mandela's heir-apparent, Thabo Mbeki, who deputizes for the president in the Cabinet and in diplomatic ventures abroad.

De Klerk's occasional opposition to various measures of Mandela's African National Congress -- which dominates Parliament -- have caused an often-acrimonious dynamic between the two men, who were embroiled in negotiations for a couple of years to prepare for the handover of power. Mandela also holds De Klerk responsible for some past mistakes.

BUT De Klerk said they had a modus operandi and commitment toward their country that helped keep the coalition together. ''There is this commitment which is making the system work,'' he said. ''A true seeking of consensus.''

''We've established a good working relationship ... he's established concensus-making, which is good for South Africa. [We're] looking back on a relatively successful year of cooperation,'' De Klerk added.

The one weak link in the chain of cooperation is Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, who has threatened periodically to leave the government over his demands for international mediation over greater autonomy for his Zulu ethnic group.

Mandela and De Klerk have expressed impatience with his methods, although both stressed they would discuss reasonable demands and do what they could to keep him from becoming marginalized. ''We are prepared to have discussions. We have carried out this near miracle with negotiations ... but we are not going to respond to any form of blackmail,'' Mandela said.

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