Presidents to bask in each others' glory

NELSON MANDELA and President F W de Klerk, buoyant at the announcement of a date for South Africa's first democratic election, will share a platform outside South Africa for the first time today when President Bill Clinton presents them both with the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia.

The point, in an event sure to generate huge domestic media interest, is to provide Mr Clinton with an unusual opportunity to instil in the American public the perception that he has scored a foreign policy success.

The President of the African National Congress and the President of white South Africa will benefit politically back home when their photographs appear on the front pages. Images of the two, smiling and triumphant next to the world's most powerful individual, will displease their main rivals, the conservative Zulus of Inkatha and the far-right Conservative Party, and help to fix the idea among their countrymen that the election on 27 April 1994 will be a two-horse race.

The Philadelphia three should all come away from today's ceremony amply satisfied. The American public would be misled, however, if it concluded that its government had played a decisive role in forging the agreement on Friday by South Africa's two great historical antagonists, the ANC and the National Party. The fact is, as diplomats in Pretoria acknowledge, that the world's influence on South African politics has diminished considerably since February 1990, when President de Klerk unbanned the ANC and released Mr Mandela from prison.

Pre-1990 foreign governments had what diplomats call a 'wish list', the key points of which - release Mandela, repeal apartheid laws, start constitutional talks - the government was pressed into fulfilling. Today Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela, who have met privately on countless occasions and have already entered into a de facto joint presidency, are always available to each other on the telephone. As for their chief negotiators, cabinet minister Roelf Meyer and ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa, they have become such good friends - they go trout-fishing together - that the new joke at the multi-party forum where negotiations take place is to speak of them as one man with one name, Cyril Meyer.

Today's ceremony in Philadelphia dramatises this special relationship, miraculous at a time when much of the world is beset by seemingly intractable conflicts. George Soros, the billionaire financier, remarked on a visit that South Africa had a fighting chance to sort out its problems where Eastern Europe did not. The key, he said, was the political convergence taking place at the centre. It began after Mr Mandela's release when, in a remarkable act of generosity, he declared that the aim was to find a middle way between black aspirations and white fears.

The ANC's opening bargaining position, broadly speaking, was to demand simple majority rule within a political system highly centralised in the manner to which South Africa had become accustomed during four decades of apartheid. The National Party's position was, through federalism and entrenched minority vetoes, to seek a system of power-sharing whose main, if unstated, aim was to avoid the possibility of blacks doing to whites what whites had done to blacks.

With painstaking slowness, each side has watered down its demands. At times in the past three years, as right-wing elements in the security forces and Inkatha's Zulu warriors unleashed their small wars on the black townships, it seemed as if negotiations were condemned to failure. Today the government and the ANC share in all essentials a common vision of the constitutional future. The ANC has accepted the desirability of conceding significant powers to regional governments. The government has dropped its insistence on minority vetoes. The deal is that the first democratic government elected next year will rule as a coalition government of national unity for five years. After that, majority rule will prevail.

Which is not to say that the deal is watertight. Danger still lurks on the extremes, specifically from those who opposed Friday's election date decision. Twenty delegations voted in favour, six against. Those six, united by their fear of losing privileges acquired under the apartheid constitution, are led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha and the far-right Conservative Party within what they call the Concerned South Africans Grouping (Cosag).

What gives Cosag its clout is that, while together they would be pressed to collect more than 10 per cent of the national vote, they have disproportionate access to guns and people who know how to use them. Chief Buthelezi, aware of where his power lies, has made thinly veiled threats about the example of Angola, where the Unita leader Jonas Savimbi went to war last year after he lost the election.

Whether the 'Savimbi option', as it is commonly described in South Africa, is taken up depends in the end on the security forces. The critical question is whether Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela can persuade the most powerful sectors in the police and army to back democracy.

Here they will require the world's help again; the US, the EC and the UN will re-emerge as players, not only providing observers to ensure that the elections are fair, but also sending a message that the world needs an example of peace and reconciliation.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Life and Style
The new model would be a “pedal assist” bike in which the rider’s strength is augmented by the engine on hills and when they want to go fast
tech
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower