Black power conquers the heart of apartheid

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The Independent Online
THE EDITOR of the Pretoria News is a fearsomely vast man by the name of Deon du Plessis who eats sub-editors for breakfast. This, at any rate, is the image Mr du Plessis cultivates. But read his most recent column and you hit upon a shocking realisation. Far from being a bully and 'kaffir'-flayer, he is a moist-eyed liberal who has tenderly embraced 'the new South Africa' to his ample bosom.

'The Transitional Executive Council (TEC),' he wrote, 'represents a new and welcome order in this country - an opening up to South Africans and to the world - that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.'

The TEC, which set up its operation in a high-rise Pretoria building on Tuesday afternoon, is the first concrete expression of black power South Africa has seen. The rest of the page in the Pretoria News was packed full of paid messages of welcome to the TEC: from Hair Focus International; from Penny's and Pounds diamond dealers; from the the Executive Health and Fitness Centre; from Dalin's TV and Hi-Fi and from the mayor of Pretoria himself, Nico Stofberg.

The TEC is a multi-party body which, for all practical purposes, will be running the country between now and the first all-race elections in April. Black members outnumber whites by five to one. And yet the Pretoria establishment, not least President F W de Klerk up at the Union Buildings, welcomes them with open arms.

This is Pretoria, bastion of the uncivil Afrikaner civil service; the cold heart of apartheid's infamous security machine; a city where the first building you encounter on arrival from Johannesburg, just 40 minutes south, is Pretoria Central prison, home of Death Row.

What is going on?

The colossus du Plessis explained. Sitting in a ridiculously small office, puffing on an unfiltered Camel and devouring a box of biscuits, he said symptoms of change were everywhere to be seen.

'Four or five years ago this was a white Boer town. Now it's a black town - just look at the streets. Afrikaans was the language. Now it's just one language, with English becoming increasingly dominant.'

Another sign of change, of the new flavour the city is acquiring, is that it is losing its traditional attachment to Calvinist morality. New strip clubs and escort agencies, long a feature of more libertine Johannesburg, are advertised shamelessly in the classified section of the Pretoria News.

Mayor Stofberg, a six-foot 16-stone pygmy compared to Mr du Plessis, belongs to the long-ruling National Party or, as he calls it, 'the new National Party'. What was happening to his city?

'The main thing is that we're seeing the beginning here of totally new government structures, new people, new officials. The so-called conservative white image of Pretoria will soon be something of the past. And I'm looking forward to it. I want to be a part of it, of the exciting challenges.'

Specifically this means that on 1 February the city council will go multi-racial for the first time, with more or less 50-50 black-white representation, taking in, for the first time, civic leaders - mostly members of the African National Congress - from Mamelodi and the other neighbouring black township, Atteridgeville.

However, the Afrikaner far right is trying to dig in, battling to resist what Volksfront posters on the roads into Pretoria describe as 'the ANC takeover'. The Volksfront, or people's front, an umbrella group covering the separatist Afrikaner right, has set up a rebel radio station broadcasting the sort of Afrikaner nationalist propaganda that until not too long ago was the South African Broadcasting Corporation's daily fare.

How worried was Mayor Stofberg? He sat back in his leather chair in his large, air- conditioned office, smiled and said: 'Well, I'm here, aren't I? No one is stopping me from coming to work.'

Was the bulk of the civil service following his reformist lead? 'Absolutely. We grew up with the old, discriminatory system. We realise now that it's dead, that it could only lead to disaster. We made the choice and the only alternative is one community, one country. So we follow the new logic. In my case I welcome it. It's simple to explain, really. We'd been living in a sort of dream. Now reality is coming through.'