12 JUNE 1993, Page 9


Timothy Ecott on the newly forged

alliance between old enemies in South Africa

Johannesburg CONTRARY TO most reasonable expec- tations, Mrs Winnie Mandela is not behind bars this week. Although found guilty of kidnapping four children (one of whom died in her custody), the South African Appeals Court last week delicately refrained from putting her in gaol. Instead, she received a suspended sentence and a large fine. 'I have at last been vindicated,' she cried, but few South Africans — even her most dedicated followers —believed in her complete innocence.

Other reactions revealed more. Mrs Mandela's husband, Nel- son, the president of the African National Congress, was tight- lipped about the result: 'I am very happy my estranged wife will not go to gaol. To make an Informed response I must study the result carefully.' President F.W. de '

sponsible social behaviour'. Perhaps it seems odd that the reso- lution of the fate of the self-styled 'Mother of the Nation' should be passed off so casually; she was, after all, the ANC's figurehead during most of her husband's 27-year prison term, and is still associated with the organisa- tion's most radical faction. But although Coverage of Mrs Mandela's original trial assumed soap-opera dimensions, this time around there was no exchange of harsh Words, no speechifying, no rhetoric. In fact (as neither party is willing to kadmit), the resolution of the case suited both the National Party and the ANC very well. Had Mrs Mandela gone to gaol, the township youths who support her dubious cause would have had another excuse to riot. Riots would have put the ANC's main- stream leadership in an even more tenuous position; riots, in other words, would have hurt the National Party's most important negotiating partner and would have post- poned constitutional negotiations once again. And while the appeals court decision may have seemed less than fair since two of her co-accused will serve gaol terms, that bothered neither the ANC nor the Nation- al Party. It is not as if either is terribly con- cerned about justice or the rule of law at the moment. These days, the two are much

more concerned about organising the coun- try's future political system for their mutual benefit.

For although journalists and political pundits, both in South Africa and abroad, still insist on depicting the country's democratisation as a negotiated struggle between the ANC and the National Party, it is no longer anything of the sort. The struggle in South Africa does not pit black against white, ANC against Nats, Mandela against de Klerk. Both parties, sworn ene- mies for so long, have instead begun to recognise that they have interests in com- mon. Both want to keep constitutional talks on track. Both want to see a unified South Africa emerge from them. Most of all, both want to exclude others from shar- ing in their control of South Africa.

And the ANC and the de Klerk govern- ment are already sharing power in many ways. De facto, they are running the coun- try hand in hand; it is no longer possible for one to move very far without the other's permission. The conclusion of Mrs Mandela's trial was typical; so was the way in which the two co-operated to end the latest schools crisis a few weeks ago. The

government had imposed a fee on stu- dents who wanted to take the matriculation exam; students and teachers protested; storm clouds loomed. Mandela and de Klerk held an emergency meeting, the fee was scrapped — and anoth- er strike by the ANC- aligned teachers' union was averted.

The assassination of the Communist Party secretary and ANC leader, Chris Hani, on 10 May was another example of Mandela/de Klerk double-handed governorship. In the

past, the funeral of someone like Hani would have led to a riot, several murders, and more stalled negotiations. This time, the state police and the ANC controlled the crowds together. The ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was even allowed to fire a salute over the coffin, almost as if it were the national army, and the funeral received solemn coverage on state televi- sion. Such displays of mutual tolerance are now so common that no one stopped to point out that a de facto state funeral was being granted to a man who was one of the chief enemies of the state just a few years ago. The ANC's hand can now be seen every- where, even in the world of rugby, a sport as central to Afrikaaner culture as cricket is to English culture. Yet even Afrikaaners want something more than overfed Boers lumbering across a sun-baked pitch to cho- ruses of Die Stem. Afrikaaners, like other South Africans, also want classy interna- tional rugby, in the shape of the Rugby World Cup which is scheduled to take place in South Africa in 1995. And they have accepted that the tournament — like the decision to send a team to last year's Olympics — cannot take place without the blessing of the ANC's sports supremo, Steve. Tshwete. Tshwete, a former inmate of Robben Island ( the lonely prison from whence ANC leaders once spent long years gazing across shark-infested waters), has lately acquired so much respectability that last year whites were often heard to cry, `Who cares about negotiations? We're going to Barcelona.' And again, no one finds it peculiar any longer that the ANC — which is still, after all, an out-of-power political party — should be involved in organising an international rugby tourna- ment.

The ANC/Nationalist pact has also affected South Africa's foreign relations. Once a diplomatic leper, South Africa can now sit back and watch while trade and assistance missions queue up to witness the birth of democracy. And when they arrive, they address themselves first to the govern- ment and then to the ANC, which is usual- ly the only one of South Africa's many independent political organisations which they bother to see. The European Commu- nity became the latest in a long line of august bodies to send an envoy this month, when Community Council President Niels Petersen visited, and offered to lend a hand once a transitional authority is in place. Naturally he met President de Klerk — and Nelson Mandela.

Foreign money and patronage, when available, also go to the ANC. In January this year, the Dutch government invited 24 ANC members to Holland for a ten-week course in diplomacy, at the expense of the Dutch tax-payer — was no one else quali- fied? A month later, an ANC fund-raising bash in Soweto attracted participation from such disparate fans as the world heavy- weight boxing champion, Riddick Bowe, and the chess champion, Anatoly Karpov. The boxer pledged $100,000 for the ANC youth development programme. Was no one else deserving of money? Recently, a senior Inkatha official admitted to me that Inkatha had lost the foreign public rela- tions battle in South Africa some years ago. Once labelled a government stool-pigeon, Inkatha's leader, Chief Buthelezi, is now portrayed at home and abroad as an ethni- cally motivated thug — and thus he is largely ignored by foreign embassies and aid missions alike. It is true that he may be less than pleasant, but should he be forgot- ten? But then, the notion of one or two ethnic groups lording it over the others to the detriment of the rest is nothing new in South Africa. In 1948, the Nationalist Party set itself up to secure not only white rule for South Africa, but Afrikaaner rule. Afrikaaners voted for the Nats because they were terrified of becoming a minority in the land which they believed God had given them. In return, the party promised not only to protect them against blacks,.but also to provide them with economic insula- tion against other Europeans, and English- speakers in particular. In the end, the National Party rescued the Afrikaaners from poverty by giving them jobs in the burgeoning public sector. Indeed, the pub- lic sector burgeoned in part because there were so many Afrikaaners who had to be looked after.

Given this tradition, it would make sense for de Klerk to look to share power with another like-minded group, merely widen- ing the circle of people to whom his party now distributes jobs to include right-think- ing blacks as well as whites. In the past, he clearly thought of Inkatha as his logical partner. Now, he has shifted his affections to the ANC. They are bigger, they are more powerful and, most of all, they have more friends in Europe and America.

For to all of those foreign friends this particular solution to South Africa's prob- lems appears to be a benign one. Abroad, the ANC are usually seen as the good guys, the well-meaning black socialists who can be trusted. Mr de Klerk, while perhaps a bit nasty in the past, is usually seen by the same people as the great white hope, the man who saw the light. Together, it is assumed that these two 'responsible' lead- ers will be able to fight off their 'irresponsi- ble' opponents, and prevent the country from sliding into chaos. Together, they will attract aid, friendship, and rugby tourna- ments.

But starry-eyed outsiders and journalists who prefer a two-horse race should remember what kind of political parties we are talking about. Both ANC and National Party leaders have happily advocated the use of violence in the past; both have been known to torture and murder dissenters; both have resorted to censorship and false propaganda; both have evinced little respect for niceties like freedom of speech. Already, the ANC has announced that it

`It is not gratuitous violence. This video cost me a tenner.'

plans to set up committees to oversee the cultural development of the new nation much in the way the National Party contin- ues to ban girlie magazines. The difference between old-fashioned authoritarianism and new-style political correctness may not turn out to be very great.

Most worrying, however, is the cavalier way in which the ANC and the National Party treat the notion of democracy. This month, for example, there has been much fuss and argument about the date of South Africa's first multiracial elections, tenta- tively set for next April. All 26 parties tak- ing part in the current constitutional negotiations have shouted for or against this date, variously calling it too late or too early. But this entire discussion is a red herring: its only purpose is to allow the ANC to put off telling its supporters that the said election will not give them the con- trol which they, as the probable majority party, have been led to expect.

For what most South Africans do not realise — ANC supporters least of all — is that these elections will not necessarily cre- ate a democratic parliament. From hints which the negotiators have lately begun to drop, it is clear that the ANC and the National Party intend to share power in whatever system replaces the current one. That is, certain executive positions will still be reserved for certain people, no matter what the outcome of elections. Certain issues will still be decided behind closed doors. Emergency meetings between Man- dela and de Klerk will continue. And that is how the country will be run for the foresee- able future.

All of this leaves the two great parties of the centre facing a very peculiar opposi- tion: an unwitting coalition of the far Right, the radical Left and the Zulu nation. Winnie Mandela, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Eugene Terre'blanche, in other words, have been left to make com- mon cause with one another, along with the so-called independent 'homelands' of Transkei, Bophutatswana, Venda and Ciskei. And politically these disparate groups have begun to sound very much alike. All hope to derail the negotiating process; all speak of a federal South Africa, even a South Africa composed of several different states, instead of a united, cen- trally governed country. Naturally, all hope to break up the ANC/National Party coali- tion, which they fear will leave them out of any future role in the governing of the country. This last goal is the most danger- ous one, for all seem more than happY to resort to violence. The black fringe already rejoices when the white Right kicks uP trouble; the white fringe pleased when blacks murder white civilians, because it persuades more people to join their cause. Perhaps Winnie Mandela said it best.

, Earlier this year, she accused the ANC 'or climbing between silken sheets with the National Party'. They may sleep soundly together for quite some time.