Leading Article: The best hope for a violent country

Click to follow
AS YESTERDAY'S frightening clashes in Soweto and elsewhere demonstrated, South Africa remains in an alarmingly tense state following Saturday's murder of the ANC leader Chris Hani. There is a real danger of the country being plunged into anarchy. The security forces are discredited, demoralised, underpaid and understaffed. Education is in chaos. In parts of the Cape, unemployment is running at 68 per cent. With grief over Mr Hani's death stoking up anger over the sheer brutishness and poverty of life, the potential for an already very violent country descending into a form of Lebanonisation is frightening.

Yet, for all yesterday's bloodshed and strikes, Mr Hani's assassination could have a very different effect. There is already in South Africa a widespread desire on all sides to achieve the swiftest possible progress towards a negotiated settlement. The envisaged timetable is to set up a (mixed) transitional executive council by June, to pave the way for elections next spring for a constituent assembly. That in turn would draw up a constitution, or more probably give its seal of approval to whatever emerges from the all-party negotiations known as Codesa. These resumed on 1 April, having been broken off last May following the Boipatong massacre.

Mr Hani's death was undoubtedly intended to disrupt the negotiating process. Leaders in all the main camps have urged their followers to do nothing that might help to fulfil that hope. To contain their anger will not be easy: Mr Hani was uniquely well placed to restrain the ANC's most unruly followers. In a country where life is cheap, to seek revenge is a normal reflex. The best hope for South Africa is that his death will give the negotiators a new sense of urgency.

There are difficulties enough between them on matters of substance. One of the most sensitive, and urgent, concerns the composition and control of the security forces in the transitional period. As our correspondent reported yesterday, there are already suspicions that the intelligence services may have been involved in a plot to murder Mr Hani and other senior figures. President F W de Klerk's purge has manifestly not gone far enough. Further ahead, there is the core question of the extent to which power should be devolved to the regions.

Much has already been achieved - not just in talks between the ANC and the government, but in a series of national negotiating forums bringing together interested parties. For example, an impressive committee has been agreed upon to appoint a new, independent board for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, hitherto by and large a mouthpiece of the government. A tripartite national economic forum has begun work on a more equitable sharing out of the economic cake. No less important, there has been something of a rapprochement between the ANC and its old adversary, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. South Africans have had a gatvol (bellyful) of violence. They must not allow even another serious political crime to divert them from the goal of a negotiated settlement.