Leading Article: UN's role in South Africa

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The Independent Online
THE AIM of those who marched on the nominally independent black homeland of Ciskei on Monday was revolutionary. Supporters of the African National Congress announced in advance that they planned to occupy the capital and force the resignation of the military ruler, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo, and his unattractive dictatorial clique. About 50,000 people - apparently unarmed - advanced on the frontiers of the unrecognised state, pushed aside the razor wire and crossed the border that divides the homeland from South Africa proper. At which point the sub-machine-guns opened up. More than 200 people were gunned down with at least 28 people killed.

There was an element of irresponsible street theatre about the ANC crusade. No serious revolutionary organisation would have involved innocent people in such a hare- brained enterprise. But then the ANC has (to its credit) never been a convincing revolutionary movement. Unlike, say, the PLO, the ANC did not place bombs in planes, or gun down travellers. Only rarely did its supporters commit violence within South Africa's borders. Exiled ANC leaders mouthed activist slogans and drew funds in return from the former Soviet bloc, the European Community and international religious organisations.

The march on Ciskei was the sort of high- risk, symbolic endeavour attractive only to the most other-worldly of revolutionaries. The ANC has been, rightly, vituperative in its condemnation of those who govern the tribal homelands, which were created as part of the structure of grand apartheid. At best the ANC regarded the homeland bosses as Uncle Toms, at worst as criminal psychopaths. Either way it was foolish of the ANC to provoke the rulers of Ciskei, gambling that the South African government would instruct its surrogates to restrain their murderous instincts.

The tragedy for South Africa is that the latest in a series of massacres came at a time when the ANC and the government were on the verge of a political breakthrough. Since the slaughter at the Boipatong squatter camp, and the subsequent police violence, the ANC has forbidden its leaders to take part in talks with the white administration. But informal contacts have continued and (as Richard Dowden reports on the opposite page) considerable progress had been made towards a constitutional settlement. It will now be more difficult for Nelson Mandela to persuade his colleagues that it is time to resume formal negotiations. If there is to be peaceful resolution to South Africa's problems, it must come through negotiations, and these must be resumed before the violence finally spirals out of control. There were welcome signs last night that President F W de Klerk and Mr Mandela were aware their country is on the edge of the abyss.

More than a month ago the South African government and the ANC agreed to the stationing of UN observers at flashpoints, and to the appointment of a special envoy, Cyrus Vance, a former US secretary of state. The UN team has still to establish a presence on the ground. Yet a credible 'facilitator' (to use diplomatic jargon) is urgently needed. In Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, the UN did too little, too late. In South Africa, too, a forceful UN presence is required. If Mr Vance does not feel up to an active role, he should make way for somebody more willing.

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