Mandela signals an end to deadlock

IN A breathtaking rhetorical somersault, Nelson Mandela described President F W de Klerk at the weekend as a man of vision and courage. This shift may not endear him to the grass roots of the African National Congress, but it does offer an unmistakable signal that, barring a disaster, formal talks with the government will resume soon.

Mr Mandela's remarks, after a two-month period in which he has denounced Mr de Klerk as the head of a band of assassins, are a measure of the change in mood of South African politics over the past four or five days. A general amnesty, for example, is being floated as a distinct possibility.

From the politics of destruction, South Africa is returning to the constructive, consensual approach that marked the months after Mr Mandela's release from prison in February 1990. The magic wand, it seems, has been waved by the international community which, through the United Nations, is suddenly playing a prominent political role in the country's affairs.

In the first half of 1990, Mr Mandela continually sang Mr de Klerk's praises, calling him 'a man of integrity'. At a fund-raising dinner in East London at the weekend, Mr Mandela picked up the theme again: 'For an Afrikaans politician, we must commend his courage, his vision and his foresight.' The important role the South African President would continue to play, should not be minimised, he added.

As for the government's problems, the ANC had similar ones, he said. 'We are dealing with a government with a background of the most brutal system of racial discrimination, and it is not easy for them to crawl out of the prejudices of the past. Our background is as a resistance movement, and it is not easy to convince members that the moment has come to act like a government-in-waiting.'

It will not be easy, either, to convince members of the desirability of a general amnesty, that would extend to ANC political prisoners and to security force officers who, were justice to be done, would be jailed.

But such an amnesty, supported by the British and American governments, is high on the political agenda. The arguments in favour are that it would help to break the deadlock in negotiations, restore trust and open the way for a more thorough inquiry by Justice Richard Goldstone into the covert activities of the police and army.

Confidence in a renewal of constitutional negotiations is such that talk in political circles is once again about the detail of the 'transition mechanisms'. Privately, ANC and government officials are saying that Codesa, a 19- party body packed with 'working groups' and 'subcommittees', will have to be replaced by a more streamlined negotiating forum.

Instead of granting the likes of Brigadier Oupa Gqozo of the Ciskei and Amichand Rajbansi of the Indian National People's Party the same platform time as Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela, the government and the ANC are likely to use an increasingly bilateral approach to problem-solving.