De Klerk warns of civil war if talks fail

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The Independent Online
F W DE KLERK opened parliament yesterday, triumphantly declaring that his policies had created the conditions for a peaceful political settlement in South Africa, but warning too that the risk remained, if negotiations failed, of civil war.

'Within South Africa, no matter how dark things sometimes may appear, a sea-change has begun - quietly and unobtrusively . . . something dramatic is beginning to happen. A broad consensus is beginning to develop,' the South African President said.

Good progress had been made towards the resumption of multi- party talks in March and the establishment by June, if all went well, of the first stages of interim government made up of blacks and whites. The stage would then be set for genuinely general elections early next year for a body to draft a new constitution.

If this timetable failed to materialise, however, if political leaders failed to agree on his chosen route to democracy, if negotiations did not succeed, then 'the simple truth is that a devastating war will ensue'.

The Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, briefing reporters before the speech was delivered, warned of the 'grotesque, awful' consequences of failure. 'We are concerned by events in Yugoslavia - more so than most people realise,' he said.

Mr de Klerk, alluding to the political violence of the last three years, played down the significance of the myriad revelations of security force involvement in dirty tricks and clung to his long-held contention that the parties principally to blame were the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. In so far as there had been progress on the political arena, a 'new spirit' having been discernible since the end of last year, this was down to the recognition by other parties - clearly he meant the ANC - that the government's vision of the future was the right one.

The basis of the new consensus, he said, was the growing realisation that 'winner-takes-all' majority rule could not work in South Africa; that the free market offered the only road to economic prosperity; that regional power structures were necessary to accommodate 'diversity'.

Since what essentially he was saying was that the ANC had compromised on original positions and caved in to government demands, the official ANC response to Mr de Klerk's speech bristled with indignation. 'Rather than being statesmanlike, De Klerk chose to be boastful. Instead of measured steps to involve his negotiating partners even more deeply in the process of transformation, he has chosen to cast himself and his government as managers of the process . . . De Klerk's comments on the issue of violence betray his government's continued bad faith.

'He not only fails to address the state's proven implication in both fomenting and fuelling the violence, but defends and praises the role of the South African Police and the South African Defence Force.' If Mr de Klerk's words seemed calculated, in the ANC's eyes, to widen the gulf between pragmatic leaders like Nelson Mandela and radicals led by his wife Winnie, at another level they revealed the extent to which the President remains concerned about the threat from the right.

Mr de Klerk's popularity rating among whites has fallen, according to opinion polls, because he is perceived by many not so much to have conquered as to have capitulated to the ANC 'Communists'.