Gestures point way to new S Africa

THE South African government, the African National Congress (ANC) and Winnie Mandela - the last two increasingly unrelated - ventured gestures over the weekend, each of which, in another time, would have been immensely dramatic. That they were not, served to illustrate the growing stability in the body politic and the new sense that democracy is around the corner.

President F W de Klerk announced a cabinet reshuffle late on Saturday night: four National Party diehards were retired and three non-whites elevated to ministerial posts. The four men to go - including the defence minister, Gene Louw - were uncontroversial, older men widely perceived to have lost their stomach for political battle. Curiously, Mr Louw's job goes to Kobie Coetsee, who also continues as Justice Minister.

The three new men, two so- called 'Coloureds' and one Indian, are all veterans of the discredited tri-cameral parliament who have crossed the floor in the last year to the National Party. Jac Rabie and Abe Williams, of the House of Representatives, and Bhadra Ranchod, of the House of Delegates, were each appointed to head junior ministries - Population Development, Sport and Tourism respectively.

Both the ANC and the liberal Democratic Party dismissed the moves as empty gestures. They were interpreted by yesterday's South African press as representing a not particularly convincing attempt by Mr de Klerk to gear up for multi-racial elections.

The ANC's gesture was somewhat more substantial, if hardly surprising. They said they would call for the lifting of most international sanctions once several steps had been taken towards representative government: a date had to be set for elections; a Transitional Executive Council, a multi-party body to pave the way for a free and fair poll, had to be in place; and independent electoral and media commissions established.

This done, sanctions would be lifted on diplomatic relations, gold coins, trade, new investment and loans. Rather more critical sanctions on arms trading and oil would remain in place, however, until the interim government of national unity had been elected.

Not untypically, it was Winnie Mandela's gesture which contained the most drama, if the least substance. Perpetuating a trend of recent weeks, she wrote an article in yesterday's Sunday Star attacking the 'power-mongering' ANC leadership. She claimed that a 'secret cabal' was planning to ease her estranged husband out of the ANC presidency and replace him with the secretary-general, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Officially, the ANC rejected Mrs Mandela's claims out of hand. Privately, ANC officials pointed out that Mr Ramaphosa, only 40, knew as well as anybody that the best guarantee of his future pre-eminence lay not only in Mr Mandela remaining president of the organisation during the elections, but in becoming president of the country after them. 'The spectacle Winnie is presenting is at one level quite mad, at another, simply sad,' said an official.

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