De Klerk and Mandela declare truce

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Like one of the Transvaal's sudden and violent summer thunderstorms, a 48-hour crisis in South Africa's government of national unity was declared over yesterday almost as soon as it had really begun.

The National Party leader and Deputy President, F W de Klerk, said he had received satisfaction after being "viciously insulted" in a dispute with President Nelson Mandela. He said that if President Mandela had not placated him after a Cabinet-level argument over amnesties for apartheid-era policemen and ministers, he would have had no choice but to resign.

"It is devoid of all truth that we did it just to attract attention. It wasn't a personal affair," he told reporters, smiling and bouyed by the sudden attention. "The country stood on the abyss of the government breaking up. I am extremely grateful for the sake of South Africa that this is not the situation."

After the two men talked for 90 minutes, Mr Mandela said he was prepared to let bygones be bygones in a relationship that is the key to the success of the country's five-year transition from white rule to multi-racial democracy. The two men then issued ajoint statement accepting each other's "good faith and integrity" and an agreement "to make a fresh start".

Both said they would act jointly to remove uncertainty that has surrounded the applications for indemnity from prosecution for apartheid-era political offences by 3,500 policemen and two former ministers, Adriaan Vlok and Magnus Malan.

Transcripts of the Cabinet meeting leaked to the Johannesburg press, quoted Mr Mandela accusing Mr de Klerk of incompetence, after which Mr de Klerk said he would have to reconsider his position. Mr Mandela is then alleged to have said this "would not cause a ripple".

"He did not call me a liar per se. But he attacked my integrity and good faith," Mr de Klerk said.

Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk had regular crises of confidence during the tortuous negotiations from 1990 that led up to multi-racial elections in 1994 and the subsequent formation of a government of national unity. Passions have often run high, but each time the two men have risen above them in the end.

"We have a working relationship. We have never had a close relationship," Mr de Klerk said. "We have never dined together or gone out together. But we've always been civil to each other. We've always agreed to compromise, and a good compromise is painful."

n Durban (AP) - With political killings again reported to be soaring, Jacob Zuma, chairman of the African National Congress, said yesterday that troops may need to be deployed in KwaZulu/Natal province.

The independent Human Rights Commission reported that 75 people were killed in political violence in December, the highest total in five months. More than 60 people were reported killed in political and criminal violence this week.