Bells tolling faintly off-stage, Mr de Klerk will stand up to speak this morning before an august collective, most of whose members will be painfully mindful of the fact that their only remaining political significance resides in their capacity to legislate themselves out of existence. The only laws of note expected to be passed this year will be those enabling the constitution of a transitional executive made up of blacks, whites and all shades in between.
Parliament's modest functions this year, in short, will come to symbolise the triumph of negotiations over both apartheid and revolution. Compromise, Mr de Klerk and Nelson Mandela have come to accept, is the name of the game, and democracy will arrive not with a big bang but in stages.
The deal does not sit easy, however, with the ANC president's wife, who still cherishes dreams of liberation by insurrection. In a speech three weeks ago, and an article this week published in South Africa's two biggest Sunday newspapers, she railed against those in the higher reaches of the ANC and the government who have opted for what she called 'the quick fix' of what they call power-sharing. Better to wait, to toil on in the struggle, until the moment is ripe for the masses to storm the citadels.
'The National Party elite is getting into bed with the ANC in order to preserve its silken sheets,' she wrote 'and the leadership of the ANC is getting into bed with the National Party to enjoy this new-found luxury.' In the process, the masses are being 'sold out'.
Officially the response of the ANC has been one of stony silence. But a number of members have volunteered opinions - on condition, as always in matters concerning the relentlessly controversial 'mother of the nation', that their identities be kept secret. What is clear is that Mrs Mandela - despite her convictions on assault and kidnapping charges, despite her love affairs, despite allegations that she has dipped heavily into ANC coffers - has struck a chord. Many ANC loyalists remain reluctant to accept the compromise of shared power.
A civic leader in Soweto, a high- energy ANC devotee, said that, yes, he knew Mrs Mandela had done bad things, but she had also shown the courage to confront the leadership, to express the popular sentiment. 'I feel the leadership is moving now like an unmanned missile, out of contact with us, the people . . . They are accepting what they are being given, not what they - and we - asked for.'
An ANC activist in Cape Town, where feeling runs particularly strong against Mrs Mandela for her past misdeeds, crisply summarised a prevailing sentiment. 'We don't like what she does. But we do like what she says.'
A senior ANC official in the Cape Town region conceded yesterday that Mrs Mandela's message had gained 'massive acceptance', but took comfort in the fact that it was she who had chosen to speak for the populists: 'If it had been someone less discredited, then we'd be in trouble.'
ANC leaders at headquarters in Johannesburg remain apparently unflustered by Mrs Mandela's populist surge. A senior negotiator yesterday said he was confident South Africa was not facing the prospect of a black Evita. 'Yes, we do have to sell the idea of compromise to our people, but we have made a good start and we will succeed in pulling the vast majority around. And anyway,' he added, 'who on earth is she to be speaking about silken sheets?'
CAPE TOWN - An MP in Mr de Klerk's National Party resigned yesterday, saying he was joining the Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, Reuter reports.
Jurie Mentz, who represents Vryheid in Natal province, said in a statement that he would ask Mr Buthelezi to let him represent the Zulu-based Inkatha in the whites- only House of Assembly, becoming the party's first member of parliament.
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