Peace prize deals blow to extremists: SA democracy gets a shot in the arm, writes John Carlin in Johannesburg

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The Independent Online
THE awarding of the Nobel peace prize to Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk yesterday and, within two hours, the death sentences delivered in the Hani trial came as a double blow to South African extremists fighting a rearguard battle against democracy.

A right-wing Afrikaner who had attended the trial stood on the steps of the Rand Supreme Court building yesterday afternoon, watched the jubilation on the faces of the hundreds of black African National Congress (ANC) supporters on the street, and said: 'I understand now what Walus felt about life in Communist Poland, how he had 'emigrated in his mind', as his brother put it, even before he had left the country. This is not my country any more. My children will grow up not speaking Afrikaans - and that is sad - but it is time to leave.'

In the same way that the response of many right- wingers to the powerful symbolism behind the Nobel award will be one of resignation, the vast majority of South Africans who support the democratic solution proposed by the president of the ANC and the President of South Africa will be buoyed in the belief that peace will triumph.

A snap poll of popular opinion, black and white, on the streets of Johannesburg yesterday yielded precisely such responses. 'It's great. I hope it will bring peace in South Africa.' 'Fantastic - richly deserved.' 'It's something we should all be proud of in South Africa. The peace process is getting recognised in the world.' 'I feel very much pleased. I feel proud.'

An ANC supporter, a black woman, debated with her friends whether Mr de Klerk had the right to share in the Nobel spoils. 'That's all right. De Klerk is also a peace man now. So they must share the prize. I'm very proud to be a South Arican.'

But an ANC official from Thokoza township, where hundreds have died in political violence since June, was more cautious - especially after the South African army raid in the Transkei 'homeland' last Friday, sanctioned by Mr de Klerk, which left five defenceless youngsters dead. 'After the deaths of the children in Transkei, I see no reason why we should accept that - but maybe it will pressure De Klerk to bring peace,' he said. Other black youths were more uncompromising, saying it was a scandal morally to equate Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk.

The views of ordinary South Africans yesterday mirrored the broader political debate. Clearly the awarding of the peace prize to the two giants of South African politics was at one level a distortion and at another riskily premature. Mr de Klerk actively promoted apartheid, 'a crime against humanity', for 17 of his 20 years in the white parliament while Mr Mandela languished in jail.

In the three and a half years since Mr de Klerk unbanned the ANC and ordered the release of Mr Mandela, 10,000 people have died in political violence in South Africa.

In some parts of the country the killings have abated but the black and white right continue to threaten civil war if elections go ahead next April as planned without their blessing. The Afrikaner Volksfront and Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (united in the new 'Freedom Alliance') have made this clear.

Mr Mandela, besides, is the first to acknowledge he does not exercise full control over the more militant elements of the angry black youth. Mr de Klerk does not acknowledge it but his police generals have not yet made the required mental leap out of the apartheid era.

But if South Africa does not necessarily deserve the peace prize, those who favour democracy certainly need it. The international imprimatur on the settlement agreed by the ANC and the government - all-race elections followed by a five- year coalition government - provides welcome additional momentum at a time of dangerous political strain.

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