For South Africans, black and white, the deed was shocking but not entirely surprising. Nothing comes as a surprise any more. Ever since Nelson Mandela was released four years ago they have been on a roller-coaster ride of great expectations, dreadful fears, thwarted hopes and then, until yesterday morning, a burst of buoyant optimism. Turbulence on the last mile to democracy is something people have learnt to live with.
But as a vicious exercise in futility the Bree Street bombing takes some beating. If the soul-stunted lunatics of the far-right really wanted to stop the elections taking place, and specifically Mandela from taking power, they have mounted their campaign - if campaign it is to be - far too late.
The bombers are a minority of a minority of a minority. There are 5.5 million whites in South Africa and more than 30 million blacks. Most whites will vote for F W de Klerk this week. Those who won't, those God-fearing, black-fearing Afrikaners who will vote for General Constand Viljoen's volkstaat option, will be appalled by what was done, ultimately, in their name by a tiny group of people whose minds have been corroded by hate.
Contrary to the caricature, Afrikaners are decent, honest, Christian folk, however twisted their politics might sometimes be. Right-wing farmers, panel beaters and post office workers who might have been toying with the idea of boycotting the election will now - depend upon it - go out and cast their votes as an expression of revulsion for what happened yesterday.
It was yet another last kick of a dying beast. God knows there have been enough already. Some 15,000 people have died in political violence since negotiations began in 1990 to establish a new democratic order. They have died as a consequence of the efforts of those in the security forces who, in collusion with Inkatha, started small wars in the black townships with the objective of destabilising the democratic process and preserving the powers and privileges they acquired under apartheid.
They might have killed 30,000 for all the difference it would have made. You can spend all day and all night analysing the reasons why change has come about in South Africa but, in truth, you need look no further than the evidence provided by two ANC rallies over the weekend, one in Johannesburg, one in Durban. At the first, on Saturday, 70,000 people turned up from Soweto's tribal melting pot to pay homage to Mandela. At the second, yesterday, more than 100,000 Zulus came to pay their respects to their Xhosa hero and celebrate the dawn of liberation.
No bombs can dampen that spirit. Even Inkatha supporters are sharing in the fun at last. Their surly chief, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, has been behaving as if a huge load has been lifted from his back since his unexpected announcement on Tuesday that he was taking part in the elections. He laughs, he jokes, as if he, too, has been liberated.
At an Inkatha rally yesterday in Soweto, where 15,000 showed up, the war-dancing one has become accustomed to at such events gave way to disco-dancing. The habitual snarls on the faces of Buthelezi's lieutenants were transformed into smiles.
Some of them will be preparing to take their places in parliament next week when justice demands they should be locked up in jail. There again, if you arrested everybody who participated in the crimes of apartheid you would not have an election. The price of healing has been compromise. The wound is almost closed. The pity of it is that so many people, nine more yesterday, have not lived to see the day.Reuse content