Leading Article: Good riddance to apartheid

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The Independent Online
WHATEVER fears may remain about South Africa's future, yesterday's agreement on an interim constitution is cause for unqualified celebration. It finally buried the doctrine of apartheid, or separate development, which was formulated in 1948 to entrench the supremacy that the white minority had exercised over the black majority for the past three centuries.

Theoretically, the present Nationalist government remains in power until the country's first free elections on 27 April 1994. In reality, a multi-party Transitional Executive Council - set up to ensure free and fair voting - will exercise a watchdog function through a series of sub-committees. On these the blacks will have their first, belated taste of power. South Africa's new era will have begun.

It is something like a miracle that the victims and perpetrators of repression should have been able, within two years, to transform their relationship from one of fear and suspicion to one of fruitful co-operation. That could never have happened without President F W de Klerk's pragmatic recognition that apartheid's time was up. The relentless economic and psychological pressure of sanctions helped to focus his mind: this was, after all, a drama in which the international world had played a leading role.

The release of Nelson Mandela from prison three years ago was a courageous and crucial move forwards. In Mr Mandela the white President gave himself a black interlocutor of unique status, whose character turned out to be no less noble and magnanimous than had been widely supposed. Bloody events, especially those in which the security services were suspected of having a hand, periodically put their relationship under great strain. But they retained their core of faith in each other. To some extent they were driven closer together by the hostility to their partnership of white extremists and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

It is worth recalling that white government in South Africa has not collapsed, but negotiated its own demise: a rare achievement for a violent country in a violent continent. Mr Mandela's African National Congress has, for its part, remained true to its pluralist, non- racial traditions. Its followers showed steadfast faith in their leaders, and an impressive lack of bitterness towards the National Party that had for so long made their lives a misery.

There remain plenty of grounds for anxiety. Those on the right, white and Zulu alike, may seek to implement their threats of further violence. Next April's election may prove a rough affair, with an uncomfortably high level of intimidation and other malpractices. If the ANC sweeps the board, some of its supporters may grow impatient with the constraints of the agreed government of national unity.

Two years ago these hazards might have looked fatal. Measured against all that has been achieved now, they look surmountable. A degree of optimism is surely in order.