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After Apartheid Comes The Tough Issue: Who'll Wield Power?

After Apartheid Comes The Tough Issue: Who'll Wield Power?

The underpinnings of South Africa's apartheid system are crumbling. President F. W. de Klerk's proposal on Feb. 1 to scrap four key racial laws will bring down apartheid's major legal props. Parliament, dominated by de Klerk's National Party, is expected to enact the plan in its current session. The most dramatic change will be abolition of the Population Registration Act, which divides South Africans into crude racial categories.

In response, the European Community promised to lift sanctions as soon as the reforms take hold. It was Pretoria's first major diplomatic breakthrough in years. And the White House may ask Congress to ease economic sanctions against South Africa this spring. But South Africa's blacks aren't in the streets celebrating just yet. The demise of apartheid laws is even oddly anticlimactic. Now, whites and blacks face the far more complex task of deciding how the country will be governed and how a new constitution will be negotiated. Indeed, some analysts think de Klerk's proposals were his attempt to hold on to some power as the pace of change accelerates. "De Klerk has given up on apartheid in exchange for enhancing his bargaining position in shaping postapartheid South Africa," says Michael Clough, a South Africa expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

UGLY LEGACY. As the legal trappings of apartheid fall, the country's deep inequities won't necessarily abate. Antiapartheid activists argue, for example, that scrapping legal obstacles to black ownership of farmland or urban dwellings won't do much for the majority of blacks, impoverished by apartheid, who lack the money to take advantage of new freedoms. "We need to address the legacy of apartheid at a social level and not simply at a legal level," says Jay Naidoo, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

The white Establishment is taking some steps to defuse the tension, conceding that much of the recent violence among black groups has its roots in the deprivation created by apartheid. In late January, to help ease the crisis in black education, five large corporations pledged $200 million to black schools over the next five years. Within days, the Independent Development Trust, which administers nearly $1 billion in government money for housing, health, and education projects, announced that it would spend a third of it on low-cost housing and land. This would be the first large-scale attempt to remedy the acute housing shortage for blacks nationwide.

WARY COALITION. But most blacks are losing patience. What's more, many are unwilling to leave the country in the hands of the National Party during the transition. That's why, while de Klerk was opening Parliament, Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and others were outside demanding the election of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. Such an assembly would reflect the popular support of each party. But the idea stirs fears among whites and tribal parties such as Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha, who worry about being steamrolled by an ANC majority.

The ANC also wants a role in any interim government. That would give it some control over the security forces, which the ANC accuses of instigating some of the political violence that has killed more than 5,000 South Africans in the past six years. But Pretoria is loath to loosen its grip on the police.

The Nats and the ANC have agreed on one issue: An all-party conference will convene before midyear to discuss the basics of a constitution, from a bill of rights to property guarantees. Clearly, the events of the past year--since the legalization of the ANC and the freeing of Nelson Mandela--show that dismantling the structures of apartheid will be a lot easier than building a new society from the rubble.