In his customary autocratic style, P. W. Botha, the head of South Africa's government for ten tumultuous years, insisted on presiding over the end of his own era. He refused to allow his successor, F. W. de Klerk, to arrange a dignified transition and, after a dispute over prerogatives, departed the political stage trailing bitter complaints of mistreatment. The manner of Botha's departure served to underscore the heavy-handed rigidity of his administration and to increase the sense of relief and hope that greeted South Africa's new president.

De Klerk, 53 years old, a scion of the flinty voortrekker country of northern Transvaal province, is the son, grandson and great-grandson of leading National Party politicians. Prime Minister J. G. Strydom was his uncle. He grew up immersed in the traditions of Afrikaner cultural life and the "Christian National Education" that its schools and organizations used to instill Afrikaner values. He joined the youth wing of the NP even before he enrolled at Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, where he earned a law degree in 1958. After practicing law in Vereeniging, he entered parliament in 1972 and has held cabinet posts for the last ten years.

There was nothing in de Klerk's background to indicate that he would be any less conservative than Botha. The great difference between the two men is in style: De Klerk is always described by both associates and opponents as a reasonable man, a problem-solver, someone who believes in consensus-building. While terrible-tempered Botha spent his holidays in the bush, blasting at game with a heavy rifle, the soft-spoken, courteous de Klerk is a golfer. But because of Botha, who warned his followers first in 1979 that they must "adapt or die," the slogan of reform, the idea of changing national institutions and the suggestion that power should be shared with the country's black majority had become mainstream thinking in the NP after 40 years in office.

Several factors coincided during 1989 to produce sentiment both inside South Africa and abroad that there should be an interval in which to "give de Klerk a chance." One such factor was his reputation for pragmatism and intelligence, combined with his more open form of leadership in contrast to the years in which Botha had simply dictated decisions to his subordinates. De Klerk's rhetoric, too, was replete with references to reconciliation, social justice and an end to discrimination. There were indications that he would rely more on traditional forms of politics and diplomacy than on the police and army networks of which Botha had been both master and slave.

South Africa as a nation also appeared less arrogant and more amenable to influence from outside the narrow circles of Afrikanerdom. With the United States brokering the settlement, South African troops had withdrawn from Angola, Cuban armed forces were pulling out in stages, and the process leading to independence for Namibia was well advanced under U.N. supervision. Western and Commonwealth capitals put consideration of additional economic sanctions in abeyance.

In this new setting, South Africa's black majority also had to reformulate its strategy. Harsh action by the security police during three years of the state of emergency had all but neutralized the principal antiapartheid organizations inside the country. The forces in exile of the banned African National Congress had never been able to mount a significant guerrilla campaign in South Africa, and now the Soviet Union, long the ANC's principal weapons supplier, was discounting any prospect of toppling the South African government by military force. With de Klerk and the NP putting forward more and more detailed proposals for a new "dispensation" and calling for a national conference to prepare a new constitution, the liberation organizations were forced to respond. They have set out a revised list of preconditions for talks, but as the government begins to deal, they must now seriously review the question of whether they will sit down to negotiate anything less than a transfer of power from the white minority to the black majority.

II

Most observers dismissed Botha's slow and narrow reform program as a series of cosmetic changes, implying that the measures only made the face of apartheid more presentable. That is true in part, but some of his reforms ratified major and irreversible transformations in the society. As "grand apartheid," the vision of racial partition designed by Hendrik Verwoerd, proved unworkable, and as "petty apartheid" faded away on city streets and beaches, it became clear that apartheid itself was no longer the issue between the black majority and the white minority. The issue now was political power.

Once the NP decided that black South Africans had to be granted a role in national politics (which is what Botha's disastrous "Rubicon" speech of August 1985 was meant to convey), it began searching for a system that would give some power to blacks without taking power away from whites. Under the direction of Botha and his chief theorist, Minister of Constitutional Development Chris Heunis, the government came up with an outline for an intricate web of race-based institutions. Blacks in the cities, in the countryside and in tribal homelands who had not accepted "independence" would be allowed to vote for national representatives. Each racial group would have a legislative body, probably indirectly elected, and each would pass laws affecting that group's "own affairs." National or "general affairs" would be dealt with by a consensus of all houses.

This ponderous scheme was not even within negotiating range of the domestic opposition's main demand: one-person, one-vote majority rule, the rallying cry of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the ANC. Nor did Botha and Heunis find any takers even among the so-called moderate black leadership. Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, one of the leaders the government most hoped to involve in its proposal, joined the more militant groups in setting forth a list of preconditions that had to be met before talks could even begin. At the head of the list was the release of nationalist hero Nelson Mandela and other imprisoned political leaders, the legalization of the ANC and all banned organizations and an end to the state of emergency so that normal political activities could take place. This list has become the starting point for all black activists. The result was stalemate: The opposition could not overthrow the government because the security forces were too strong, and the government could not put in place a new constitutional system in the face of opposition from the majority of its citizens.

Reactivating the reform program was probably not uppermost in de Klerk's mind when Botha suffered a stroke on January 18, 1989, or when Botha startled the country on February 2 by resigning as leader of the NP. First de Klerk had to overcome a strong challenge from the Botha-backed candidate for party leader, Finance Minister Barend du Plessis. Then he had to deal with the frictions and confusions generated by Botha's determination to remain state president for as long as possible. De Klerk must have concluded, on reflection, that he would be able to do a better job with reform than Botha. With his well-honed public relations skills, he could establish some credit for even trying for a settlement, not least on the books of foreign governments still contemplating sanctions.

In his first parliamentary speech as party leader, de Klerk pledged to strive for a country "free of negative discrimination on the basis of race" and to provide for "a just and equitable dispensation" for all South Africans irrespective of race. He called for an indaba, a national conference, to negotiate its terms. By referring to "negative" discrimination he signaled his belief in some positive form of discrimination, and he also offered a spirited defense of "group"-read racial-rights. "There is no such thing as a nonracial society in a multiracial country," he said. Even so, the emotional fatigue of the Botha years had been so depressing that de Klerk's upbeat approach was welcomed by most factions.

Botha, however, was apparently angered by de Klerk's quick assumption of leadership and the favorable responses he received. The 73-year-old Botha appeared on national television to announce that he would return from sick leave and resume the duties of the presidency on March 15. De Klerk, Botha said, was "being misused by some people." Even worse in the eyes of NP leaders who favored early elections to take advantage of disarray among the opposition parties, he declared that there would be no election in 1989. He clearly hoped to remain in power indefinitely. The explanation for Botha's behavior, observed the Johannesburg Sunday Times, seemed to lie "more in the realm of geriatric psychology than in political analysis."

Only after repeated confrontations with a party united against him did Botha grudgingly announce in parliament on April 6 that, after all, there would be an election before the end of the year and that he would then retire.

III

The emergence of de Klerk and his new emphasis on negotiations with the black majority found the antiapartheid movement off balance and disorganized. The government had banned more than 30 organizations from all activity and ordered the largest black labor federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, to take no part in political action. It had detained hundreds of antiapartheid leaders without charge and when it released them, the government bound those leaders with restrictions that kept them from attending meetings, speaking in public or even working at their regular jobs. Protests and demonstrations were banned and street riots had ended almost as soon as police and troops moved massively into the black townships in the days following the 1986 emergency decree.

The movement was further divided and distracted by a wrenching controversy over Nelson Mandela's wife, Winnie, and the alleged criminal behavior of her squad of about 30 young bodyguards. In February 1989 the UDF and the Congress of South African Trade Unions formally expressed their "outrage," forced Winnie Mandela out of the antiapartheid movement and instructed activists to distance themselves from her.

The most public manifestation of black activism in the first half of 1989 was the bloody war in Natal province, where fighting between supporters of the Zulu-based Inkatha movement and the UDF had claimed more than 1,400 lives since 1984. From his bungalow at the Victor Verster Prison outside Paarl, Nelson Mandela was moved to write to Chief Buthelezi, the president of Inkatha, urging that they "join forces" to end the "deplorable conflicts" in Natal. Although most leaders of the UDF and the ANC regard Buthelezi as an enemy because he serves as the chief minister of KwaZulu, an apartheid homeland, Mandela has always recalled his cooperation with Buthelezi in the early days of the ANC Youth League and expressed his hope that it could be reestablished after his release. "At no other time in our history has it become so crucial for our people to speak with one voice and to pool their efforts," Mandela wrote.

ANC leaders outside the country also felt that the liberation movement was at low ebb. The December 1988 settlement that brought independence to Namibia had forced the ANC to close its bases in Angola and dispatch several thousand fighters to Tanzania, Ethiopia and other northern countries. This left the ANC without operational bases for its guerrillas in any country bordering on South Africa or Namibia. There were splits inside the ANC itself over the issue of the relative weight of violence and negotiation in its strategy.

That disagreement over the role of force and talks intensified during the year after Oliver Tambo, the ANC's 71-year-old president, suffered a debilitating stroke and potential rivals for the leadership began seeking support. The organization's response to its problems was a brave effort to highlight signs of progress. De Klerk's hints of flexibility, said the ANC leadership, showed that he was worried and wavering. More pressure, not compromise, was needed, and the organization would not only not renounce violence but would step up its guerrilla campaign inside South Africa. The exiled leaders admitted, however, that they had never been satisfied with the efforts of their military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), which has been operating sporadically and ineffectively since 1961.

To the mass antiapartheid organizations inside South Africa, ANC leaders sent a call to mount a defiance campaign: refuse to accept the banning of antiapartheid groups, ignore the restrictions placed on their activities by the police, reject government orders and hold meetings and demonstrations. Thabo Mbeki, director of international affairs for the congress, said the banned UDF should go back into action and direct the defiance campaign. (The UDF reemerged in that role a few weeks later under a new title, the Mass Democratic Movement.) The congress also reissued its list of preconditions for negotiations with Pretoria: the release of all political prisoners, the legalization of all banned organizations, the return home of political exiles, the end of the state of emergency, the repeal of apartheid laws and the removal of government troops from black townships. Those were the same demands the ANC and UDF had presented to Botha whenever he proposed talks on a new constitution.

IV

NP election campaign slogans have usually centered on swart gevaar, the black peril, and kragdadigheid, toughness, the need for a firm hand and tight security to protect white citizens. That element of scare tactics was not absent in 1989 either, but de Klerk chose a new emphasis, painting the NP as the moderate, middle-of-the-road party. Only the NP stands for participation by everyone and domination by no one, de Klerk argued. Launching his election drive in May, de Klerk spelled that out in some detail, although he used the arcane, coded language that NP politicians have developed to describe minor concessions in sweeping terms.

The NP favored power-sharing, he said, and that meant that on issues of special importance to one racial group, each group would decide its "own affairs" on the basis of "self-government." Issues of common interest would be decided together on the basis of consensus; if consensus cannot be achieved, "a reliable referee" should be provided by some kind of constitutional court. (A similar provision exists in the present constitution to deal with those measures that the three houses of parliament cannot agree upon; the referee is the President's Council, which is dominated by the NP.) All "population groups" should have full participation and prosperity, de Klerk added, "but not at the expense of the whites."

The official NP election manifesto at the end of June 1989 offered more specifics. It outlined a five-year "action plan" that committed the government to convening a national constitutional convention at which the black majority would be represented, but vowed that no racial group would be permitted to dominate either the convention or the system that might result from it. Groups, like individuals, would have guaranteed rights. The manifesto hinted that the list of protected racial groups might include various black tribes, thus making them parts of a nation without a majority-a description of South Africa that the NP has advanced for many years. It also predicted changes in the racial-classification laws to provide for an "open group" of people who do not want to be categorized under the present system of racial groups and who might wish to live in desegregated "open areas." A party spokesman indicated how complicated the new political structures might be when he suggested that a plan for a multiracial legislative body could include representatives of 24 groups: blacks, whites, mixed-race "coloreds," Asians, ten major black tribes, nine rural-development regions and one "open group."

Almost buried in the verbiage was a slight change in the description of who might take part in negotiations for a new "dispensation." The government had always insisted that the ANC was a terrorist organization that would not be admitted to the conference room until it formally renounced the use of violence for all time. The June manifesto began to revise that formulation. It said that those "who have a commitment to peace" could take part, and an NP spokesman emphasized the difference by saying the government was "almost moving away from the meaningless requirement of the renunciation of violence."

This formula on the issue of violence has been a perennial problem for Pretoria. For as long as the government does not want to talk with the ANC, it provides a tool with which to fend off the exiles. But the requirement had also been applied to Nelson Mandela; Botha had regularly demanded that Mandela formally renounce violence in order to be released. Then two years ago Botha began to hedge, saying there were other considerations to take into account, such as Mandela's age and the many years he had spent in prison. While Mandela holds no official position in the ANC, he is generally considered its symbolic leader and commands the respect of more blacks in South Africa than any other man.

One of Pretoria's strategic goals has been to arrange a split between the ANC in exile, which the government has consistently described as terrorist and communist, and the old ANC leaders and their supporters at home, whom it sees as "nationalist" and more flexible. Mandela himself has frequently told visitors that he understands the need to take white fears of domination into account when negotiating a new political system. He has said that black negotiators would have to have patience and that the first objective was to get the negotiating process going. Mandela has also maintained his determination to rebuild cooperation with Buthelezi. The men at the top of the South African government are convinced that "radicals" are only a minority among the black population, that most blacks are "moderates" and that it is possible to exclude radicals and negotiate with moderates. It would suit Pretoria very well if Mandela were to emerge from prison and bring a unified black delegation with limited ambitions to the conference table, and the Botha government had tried seriously to achieve such an outcome.

Giving that wheel a final dramatic spin, Botha invited Mandela to meet him face-to-face for the first time in his office in Cape Town, and Mandela agreed. Mandela's motivation seems to have been his hope to get serious negotiations started. The two men spent 45 minutes together on July 5, sipping tea and talking. Officially, it was not a negotiation, but in fact it was the result of months of discussion between Mandela and four cabinet ministers. The two old foes confirmed "their support for peaceful development in South Africa." By agreeing to that, Mandela qualified as a person with "a commitment to peace" and thus for admission to the government's proposed negotiation process.

In spite of the long lead time, Mandela had not informed anyone of his intention to meet Botha, and black activists were shocked and confused when they learned of it. In their view, no dealings with the government could be accepted until their preconditions had been met, including the release of Mandela himself. Black leaders quickly denounced the meeting as a stunt of no political importance staged solely by Botha. Joe Modise, commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, insisted that "only the armed struggle will bring the Boers to negotiations." Mandela responded strongly. He released a statement from prison stressing his conviction that dialogue between the South African government and the antiapartheid movement, especially the ANC, "is the only way of ending violence and bringing peace." His intention, he said, was to help create the climate that would bring about negotiations. Activists in South Africa backtracked and welcomed Mandela's contribution to improving the political climate. Government spokesmen and Afrikaans-language newspapers referred to Mandela now in the most respectful terms, completing the transformation of his public image from terrorist to diplomat.

While the Mandela-Botha meeting stirred confusion, it also clarified two key points: Mandela will be released sooner rather than later, and the ANC in some form will be included in future negotiations. The top echelon of the ANC had been aware that the South African government was moving in this direction and had circulated a four-page discussion paper among its followers. The paper warned that the liberation movement "cannot afford to trail behind the regime and . . . fall into a defensive posture." It pointed out signs that the government might try to set up purely domestic negotiations by releasing Mandela and other imprisoned ANC leaders. The paper said it was time for the antiapartheid movement to consider such questions as how to organize for talks, who would participate and how to end the use of violence on both sides. It also introduced the idea of negotiating on the formation of a transitional government that would supervise free elections. After years of reciting preconditions, this was the most concrete step the liberation organization had ever taken toward formulating tactics for negotiation.

De Klerk quickly followed up with another attempt to seize the high ground as peacemaker and show the ANC to be the spoiler. If the exile organization would only follow the lead of Mandela and declare itself committed to peaceful solutions, he said, then it could enter the dialogue and take part in negotiations. If it did not, however, the government would continue to rule out talks with those involved in "violence and terrorism." The ANC took this long-distance bargaining process another step with a longer and more detailed document setting forth its plan for a political settlement in South Africa. The organization said it would meet directly with government representatives to set up a transitional government to supervise elections on a one-person, one-vote basis. This meeting would have to begin before a cease-fire could be called, but the meeting could not begin until Pretoria had met the list of ANC preconditions. Only those actions, said the ANC with a phrase borrowed from Mandela, would foster a "climate for negotiations."

As the parliamentary election battle entered its closing month, the defiance campaign the ANC had recommended in Lusaka, Zambia, in May went into operation in South Africa. The banned UDF took a new nom de guerre, the Mass Democratic Movement, and returned to the front lines. With support from black church and labor leaders, it declared that it would no longer obey restrictive orders and would stage nonviolent protests in segregated facilities throughout the country. Although defiance leaders emphasized the nonviolent nature of their protests, rioting broke out in townships outside Cape Town and Johannesburg. In the days just before the election, at least 23 people were killed in the streets, more than 2,000 arrested and 234 detained.

Shortly before the elections, Botha and de Klerk had a confrontation over Botha's refusal to give presidential permission for a de Klerk trip to Zaïre and Zambia; Botha refused on the grounds that Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda (with whom Botha himself had held talks) was providing aid and comfort to the ANC. Neither de Klerk nor the rest of the cabinet was willing to accept this final humiliation, so Botha abruptly appeared on television to announce his resignation in a petulant, rambling monologue. De Klerk was sworn in as acting president on August 15 and pledged that he would follow his party's five-year plan for political reform and would consider the release of Mandela after the election. "I commit myself," he said, "to making a breakthrough with negotiation."

On election day, September 6, the NP retained an absolute majority in the House of Assembly, the white chamber of parliament, though it lost 30 seats, reducing its representation to 93 of the 166 elected members. Both the Conservative Party (CP) on the right of the government and the Democratic Party on the left gained, but less than they had predicted. De Klerk insisted that the setback would not keep him from fulfilling his five-year plan. Adding the Democrats' 21 percent of the vote to the Nationalists' 48 percent, de Klerk claimed a "resounding" mandate for reform. "It's a clear majority for the parties that stand for the granting of political rights to all South Africans," he said. In actuality the Democrats were the only party to call for complete repeal of apartheid legislation and they finished third. With 48 percent of the electorate for the NP and 31 percent for the CP, 79 percent of the white voters had in fact supported some form of apartheid. There was also an ethnic move to the right; the Nationalists won the votes of half the country's English-speakers, while half of the Afrikaners bolted from the ruling party to back the reactionary CP, whose leader, Andries Treurnicht, predicted that he would head the government after the next election.

V

Election eve had seen widespread rioting in black and mixed-race townships and police killed at least 15 demonstrators. There were loud protests by leading black clergymen and white liberals. Television viewers around the world found their most vivid images of South African violence in pictures of helmeted policemen whipping fleeing demonstrators. The week after the election, the government banned the use of sjamboks-long, hard rubber whips-by the police. It had been received wisdom that de Klerk would not rely as heavily as Botha had on the advice of the security forces and would not use them as his principal political tool. This action was accepted as the first sign that the assumption was correct.

Removal of the sjambok from police arsenals was the prelude to an even more unexpected policy shift. After years in which all black political organizations and all antiapartheid protests were ruthlessly crushed by the security police, de Klerk called a press conference to announce that the government had "no objection" to political protests so long as they were peaceful. Although march organizers had refused to apply for it as the law required, de Klerk gave his personal permission for a mass protest march in Cape Town on September 13 and ordered the police to stand back. "The door to a new South Africa is open," he said. "It is not necessary to batter it down." Some 20,000 people led by the Reverend Allan Boesak, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Cape Town Mayor Gordon Oliver marched peacefully through the city center carrying ANC banners and calling for an end to white rule. It was a startling contrast to a smaller demonstration in the same city ten days earlier, which riot police had broken up with whips and water cannons. A CP spokesman called de Klerk's policy switch "a knife thrust in the back" of the security forces. Senior police officers made sure that their disapproval became known and there were reports that a split had emerged in the cabinet.

Over the next several days 20,000 protesters marched in Johannesburg and 1,000 held a rally in Pretoria, the capital of Afrikanerdom. In Johannesburg the march ended at police headquarters in John Vorster Square, where clergymen handed a petition to a police colonel. It pointed out that while whites could express their political views in elections, blacks had no means other than processions and demonstrations. Although large ANC and red communist flags were waved in front of the police building, no attempt was made to confiscate them.

Such public venting of their anger was exhilarating to activists who had been tightly restricted for years, and they followed up with a series of large and small demonstrations. But the novelty wore off quickly for the protesters, so that marches became infrequent after the first few weeks of relaxation.

De Klerk's next step was a cabinet reshuffle that dumped several Botha men but kept the key ministers of defense, internal security, foreign affairs and finance in their posts. The most significant appointment was that of Gerrit Viljoen, who replaced the retired Heunis as minister of constitutional development, that is, chief negotiator with the black majority. Viljoen, a former chairman of the secret Afrikaner Broederbond, is considered one of the most reform-minded men at the top of the NP. He is a former professor and an intellectual, and has most recently been in charge of the upgrading of the black educational system. His return to the political reform field was an indication of de Klerk's seriousness about getting talks started.

In his inaugural address in Pretoria on September 20, de Klerk asked all South Africans to commit themselves to reaching a peaceful accord and promised a completely new approach to removing obstacles-"discussion and negotiation between everyone who seeks peace." He also seemed slightly uneasy about the excitement his change in the rules on public protest had generated. He was aware that "unreasonable expectations" had been aroused and cautioned that he could not be held responsible for "over-enthusiastic or even twisted versions of our policy."

Despite that warning, de Klerk continued to raise expectations. He talked formally for three hours at his office in Pretoria with Boesak, Tutu and other black clergymen about preconditions for negotiations, obstacles that Tutu said de Klerk badly underestimated. De Klerk replied that a government could not be held to a timetable set in advance, then proceeded with his own. He released Walter Sisulu, the 77-year-old former secretary general of the ANC who in 1964 was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage, and seven other veteran antiapartheid leaders. Sisulu's release had been expected, but the timing appeared related to the fear of sanctions. No official informed Albertina Sisulu that her husband was about to be freed, but de Klerk did find time to telephone the news to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the eve of her departure for the Commonwealth conference in Malaysia. At the conference Mrs. Thatcher argued against further sanctions.

De Klerk said that the release of the eight black leaders would contribute to reconciliation, but the release of Mandela "is not now on the agenda." One reason for the delay, it seemed, was that Mandela would be held as a guarantee of reasonable behavior on the part of those released, and another was Mandela's own reluctance to be freed until a serious negotiating process has begun. Mandela sent a message from his prison residence saying that his release was not under consideration "at this stage."

The release of Sisulu and other well-known ANC leaders set off a wave of celebrations and parades that added up to a de facto unbanning of the ANC. At a huge ANC rally near Soweto at the end of October, Sisulu told a crowd of 70,000 supporters that he saw "no clear indication that the government is serious about negotiations," and in the many interviews he granted, Sisulu went out of his way to emphasize that violent struggle would continue. Some of his released colleagues directly rejected any suggestion that they might form a domestic and more moderate wing of the ANC.

That hold-the-line position advocated by the ANC was formally endorsed in early December at the largest antiapartheid conference in 34 years. More than 4,500 delegates from several hundred organizations met in Johannesburg and resolved that they would continue the struggle without compromise. They were convinced that the de Klerk government was "not interested" in having "genuine negotiations" or in creating a democratic South Africa. While the delegates welcomed the changes de Klerk had introduced, they concluded that his objective was only to make apartheid "palatable" to the country and the world.

While visiting the Ivory Coast on December 2, de Klerk had said that the question was not whether Mandela would be released, but when. At Mandela's request, the two men met in Cape Town on December 13. Although spokesmen for the Mass Democratic Movement again insisted that Mandela was not negotiating with de Klerk, it was clear that the two men had discussed ways in which the government could meet the preconditions that the movement demands.

VI

Domestic opponents and foreign governments have now started giving de Klerk deadlines. Prime Minister Thatcher has warned that he certainly does not have the five years he spoke of to carry out his "action plan." Herman Cohen, the new American assistant secretary of state for Africa, said in Washington that the Bush Administration would wait until the end of the next South African parliamentary session in June 1990 to see whether de Klerk has made significant progress toward meeting the preconditions for negotiations. If he has not, Cohen said, the United States will consult with its allies about further punitive sanctions. Archbishop Tutu suggested almost the same approach, asking that major new sanctions be held off until de Klerk's achievements in parliament can be evaluated. It is clear to Tutu and Cohen that the threat of sanctions has more political utility than their actual imposition. But those setting out deadlines, like those who have been saying "give de Klerk a chance," are likely to be disappointed in both the timing and content of any future negotiations. As de Klerk told a Western diplomat recently, "Don't expect me to negotiate myself out of office."

De Klerk's intention is to share power without surrendering it. The power he has it in mind to share is that over what he calls the blacks' "own affairs," such matters as black education, housing, health and infrastructure. Blacks may decide on those policies and, presumably, impose the taxes on the black community necessary to finance them as well. But he has no intention of allowing blacks any power over the white community's "own affairs" or the wealth produced by it. This arrangement he calls "self-government." The indirectly elected, race-based legislative bodies he envisions would meet alone to decide their "own affairs" and together only to consider "general affairs" such as foreign policy, defense or highways. His unalterable basic position is that "groups," meaning racial groups, have rights; white-group rights include the freedom to live, go to school, receive medical treatment and vote in whites-only institutions.

In short, whites have the right to retain the forms of apartheid they cherish most. De Klerk would not express it that way because he believes it is possible to discriminate without being prejudiced. "Our strong emphasis on group rights," he said in parliament, "is based on the reality of South Africa and not on an ideological obsession or racial prejudice. All the lip service being paid to a so-called nonracial society is pure nonsense."

De Klerk proposes a negotiation with all those who have abjured violence, that is, those who have sworn they would not take part in revolution or civil war, followed by the election of representatives to a national forum. If the ANC were ever to agree to this, it would find its influence diluted by the participation of several other black groups, including the Zulu Inkatha movement, other homeland officials, black municipal leaders and "moderate" black religious leaders. As de Klerk said in July, "I sincerely believe that much too much credence is attached to the ANC, to the detriment of the status of recognized leaders who command substantial support throughout or in large regions of South Africa." These are fighting words to the ANC, which considers itself the sole legitimate interlocutor with Pretoria and dismisses all officials now participating in "the system" as sellouts.

Black leaders quite correctly regard de Klerk's design as one for the continuation of apartheid with a smiling face. Their own program, however, is equally nonnegotiable so far as de Klerk is concerned. Their goal is a unitary state in which each adult will have a vote and the majority will rule. They reject the concept of group rights as unnecessary and a relic of apartheid. Yes, they say, negotiations should take place, but only to create a transitional government that will supervise elections on a one-person, one-vote basis. It would be, as the government puts it, a meeting to negotiate Pretoria's surrender.

Even for that kind of meeting, the ANC and its principal internal allies have preconditions. The most complete list was presented to de Klerk by Tutu and the Reverend Frank Chikane, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, at their meeting on October 11. The list includes immediate demands: end the state of emergency, lift restrictions on activists and organizations, release political prisoners and rescind all death sentences. If these are not met, said Chikane, "negotiations will be a nonstarter." Even if de Klerk meets them, however, the list contains more demands that must be fulfilled in the next few months: repeal legislation restricting political activities and all of the central apartheid laws.

Such actions are not in de Klerk's plan. When he emerged from that meeting, he said the two sides had to stop "talking past each other." As he replied then, he would not be held to a timetable and would proceed in a step-by-step fashion. He has done so on his own schedule, promising again to lift or modify the state of emergency and announcing that the Separate Amenities Act, which provides for segregated public facilities, will be repealed.

The changes de Klerk has instituted in 1989 are essentially a relaxation in the enforcement of certain security regulations and segregation laws. They have provided no movement on the issue now at the top of the agenda: political power. His intention is three-fold: (1) to make a highly visible show of reform in order to impress the world; (2) to put the onus for a delay on the ANC; and (3) to draw "moderate" black leaders and those he sees as the silent majority into negotiations on his terms. De Klerk hopes to avoid further sanctions if he can, but he will face them if they come rather than compromise on what he sees as nothing less than the survival of his Afrikaner volk.

The antiapartheid movement is in a quandary. Its leaders know full well that de Klerk is not going to hand over his government and that negotiations for a settlement reached by stages is the most realistic approach. But they fear that such a course, which could be a prolonged one, would kill the excitement and commitment they have mobilized in their followers. Sisulu was conscious of that in his October appearance, when he urged supporters to keep up the pressure on the government. But how serious are those pressures? There is no revolution in South Africa and there is none on the horizon. Foreign Minister Roelof Botha reflected this when he asked, "Why should we surrender when we have not been defeated?"

The ANC has not been a success at guerrilla warfare and with the Soviet Union backing away, large-scale violence is less likely than ever. It cannot hope to mount a revolution without bases in neighboring states, secure supply lines for weaponry and training and other outside support. Throwing rocks and firebombs at police vehicles does not constitute a revolution. The township rioting of 1985 and 1986 was quickly choked off by the security forces. Boycotts and strikes are almost certainly the movement's most effective weapons, but so far it has not been able to organize any actions large enough or sustained enough to damage the economy and threaten the government.

Many South African businessmen say that the most effective sanction conceivable would be for millions of South African workers simply to stay home and withhold their labor until the government agrees to their terms. Such major mobilization remains beyond the reach of the antiapartheid movement. As a result, both domestic activists and ANC exiles continue to place excessive faith in economic sanctions from abroad as a decisive weapon. This deus ex machina is a delusion, because foreign governments are unwilling to impose measures that involve a significant cost to themselves. International banks have already agreed to reschedule billions of dollars of South Africa's short-term debt.

There is, so far, no pressure in sight that will force de Klerk to bargain away his vision of white rights and security. For the near future, the outlook for South Africa is change but no solution.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Bruce W. Nelan is a Senior Writer at Time magazine. He was the magazine's Bureau Chief in Johannesburg from May 1985 until June 1989.
  • More By Bruce W. Nelan