South African Elections: Unloved SA whites relish return to the world stage: World Cup tours and a chance to take part in the Olympics have a role to play in dimming the election hopes of extremists

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BEFORE President F W de Klerk initiated South Africa's rise to international respectability with the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990, life was tough for his diplomats abroad.

At one school in the United States they would hold 'apartheid simulation' classes for the benefit of the diplomats' children. The white South African boys and girls would be instructed to assume the role of black farm labourers begging money from their 'baas'. The 'baas', played by a child of a different nationality, would respond with caricature of racial offensiveness.

In attempting to gauge the role played by the international community in shaping the evolution of South Africa from apartheid to democracy these last four years it is important not to forget the pain white South Africans felt at being perceived as the polecats of the world. And the resentment and distrust, especially among state officials, that came with it.

The government's suspicion of foreigners took time to go away, though contacts at ambassadorial level had been going for some time. The British, German and American embassies - less unloved than others by Pretoria - had a helpful part in 1990 and 1991 in overcoming tension between government and ANC officials. Diplomatic cocktails repaid in those days the foreign tax- payers' investment.

Then suddenly, in 1992, the floodgates opened. Sanctions started to disappear. South Africa's participation in the cricket World Cup in Australia early that year proved a tremendous psychological boost to white South Africans.

Mr de Klerk's success in persuading 68.7 per cent of whites to vote 'yes' to reform in the referendum of March 1992 owed much to the threat that delights such as international cricket would be taken away again if they voted 'no'. The message came through loud and clear to the government: if you want to persuade the white population to go along with you on the road to the new South Africa; if you want to nullify the potential right-wing threat, give them foreign bread and circuses.

There followed rugby tours, the Olympics, visits to South Africa by foreign dignitaries, consumer imports and new export opportunities for South African industry; the opening of embassies the world over, not least in Africa, invitations to Mr de Klerk to the White House, to Buckingham Palace; the Nobel Peace Prize last year, won by Mr de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

The nut to crack if the democratic process was to succeed was white resistance. If the extreme right has virtually abandoned the war option now it is, in part, because of the prospect of losing the rugby World Cup competition, due to be held in South Africa next year. More important, the deal has received, as a European diplomat put it, 'the international good-housekeeping seal of approval'.

What is extraordinary today is the degree to which foreigners have infiltrated every nook and cranny of the state machinery. Take the Goldstone Commision of inquiry into public violence. Judge Richard Goldstone, whose task is to expose the sinister workings of South Africa's secret state, has been assisted by a team of European detectives.

In November 1992 a Goldstone team raided a Military Intelligence (MI) safe house in Pretoria, exposing a politically explosive can of worms. What was revealed was the degree to which MI remained involved in subverting the ANC. A British police officer, Commander Tom Laidlaw, of the Metropolitan Police, was with the raiding party. The government did not complain.

Today the Goldstone Commission has seconded foreign investigators, headed by a Frenchman, to pursue allegations that a security police unit orchestrated the ANC- Inkatha violence of recent years. There is no more politically sensitive issue in South Africa, yet foreigners are right in the thick of it.

Foreign policemen in fact, are crawling all over the place, assisting in community policing programmes, evolving social schemes to bring peace to the townships, helping train the new National Peace-keeping Force, a multi-party effort to oversee the elections in two weeks' time.

The governments of Britain, Norway, Malaysia, India, among others, have been receiving would- be recruits - most of them black - to the civil service and training them in everything.

South Africa is awash with election monitors - 4,000 are expected in all - from the Commonwealth, the European Union, the Organisation of African Unity, the United Nations. The chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland, Pat Bradley, is a critical cog in the wheel of the Independent Electoral Commission, the body entrusted with running the election.

Only yesterday, Lord Carrington and Henry Kissinger arrived in Johannesburg to mediate in the crisis generated by Mangosuthu Buthelezi's refusal to submit his Inkatha Freedom Party to the will of the electorate.

There is irony here. The Conservative and Republican governments in the Eighties placed great faith in Chief Buthelezi, whom they saw as the moderate, anti-Communist alternative in the black liberation struggle. Now it is he, not the white President, who is the polecat. It is he who has assumed the recalcitrant role once played by Mr de Klerk's unlovely predecessor, P W Botha. The difference now, the measure of how far South Africa has travelled, is that it is a black man, not a white, who has to be persuaded that democracy is a good thing.

Backlash for business, page 34

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