De Klerk Stumbles And The Anc Stands Taller

Just weeks after winning his biggest international triumph, South African President F. W. de Klerk has suddenly lost political headway at home. De Klerk was riding high when President Bush decided on July 10 to reward his steps toward dismantling apartheid by scrapping U. S. economic sanctions. But now, disclosures that security agencies in de Klerk's government secretly financed Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, the conservative rival of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, have badly dented President de Klerk's reformist mantle. The likely result will be to bol-ster the ANC politically and strengthen its drive for an in-terim government to rule during the transition from apartheid to nonracial democracy.

In an effort to contain the political damage, de Klerk on July 29 demoted Defense Minister Magnus Malan and Law & Order Minister Adriaan Vlok, who controlled the military and police. Then, he replaced them with more liberal Cabinet colleagues. He also pledged to appoint a group from the private sector to advise him on covert activities. De Klerk said he will soon name a judicial commission to probe the security forces' alleged role in violence that killed 2,000 South Africans in the past year.

SINISTER FORCE? These moves should help cushion the blow to de Klerk. But the evidence of covert political activity reinforces the ANC's argument that the ruling National Party can't be trusted to guarantee fairness in the process of reshaping South Africa. Up to now, de Klerk has managed to sidestep the ANC's demand for power-sharing by taking a series of steps to remove key features of apartheid. But on July 30, he said he was ready to start negotiations with all parties, with "transitional arrangements" as the top agenda item. The talks are likely to start soon, although the ANC insists that the government first release all prisoners that the ANC classifies as political. It also will wait to see what de Klerk does to end the violence.

So far, there is no clear evidence of collusion between Pretoria and the Inkatha Freedom Party in stirring the grass-roots mayhem. But the disclosures of the government funding for Inkatha have stirred even the white Establishment. The liberal opposition Democratic Party and moderate newspapers are now more ready to believe ANC charges that a sinister "third force" linked to security agencies has provoked the clashes.

Besides pushing de Klerk to yield on issues such as power-sharing, the scandal may also have international repercussions. It seems likely to deter efforts by President Bush to scrap the Gramm Amendment, which requires the U. S. to veto International Monetary Fund loans to Pretoria. And it may strengthen the resolve of U. S. states and cities to continue their own anti-apartheid sanctions. "I think it will give people pause as to the intention of the South African government to allow a democratic process," says Miloanne Hecathorn, the Oakland (Calif.) official in charge of implementing that city's sanctions.

The biggest loser, though, is Buthelezi. In the past, he and Inkatha were seen by many white liberals and executives as a moderate antiapartheid, antisocialist alternative to the embattled National Party and the ANC. Now, although Buthelezi retains support among his Zulu constituency, the exposure of his conniving with security forces has probably destroyed his hope of attracting a wider following. More and more, the struggle to reshape South Africa looks like a face-off: de Klerk and the National Party, still wielding the levers of official power, vs. Mandela and the ANC, with a strengthened claim to speak for the country's black majority.

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