Apartheid On The Ash Heap

YOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT F. W. DE Klerk made two promises when he Stock office four years ago. He promised blacks the vote, but he also told the whites who elected him that he'd protect them from "domination" by the majority. He had in mind a permanent white veto, and his aides scoured the world for constitutional formulas that gave ethnic minorities special rights. De Klerk was betting that the popularity of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela would begin to fade as soon as he was released from prison. Instead, de Klerk watched his own approval ratings slip, while Mandela, backed by an overwhelming majority of blacks, stood firm against any dilution of a black government's power. One by one, de Klerk's "power sharing" schemes all fell away. And last week de Klerk conceded precisely what he once sought to avoid: black-majority rule.

But was it really such a climb-down? After two years of negotiations, de Klerk, Mandela and 17 other political leaders last week endorsed a landmark new Constitution that grants the next president sweeping powers. That will almost surely be Mandela. As chief executive, he will be formally required to consult with two deputy presidents, but will be free to ignore their advice--a far cry from the three-way presidency that de Klerk first proposed as a way of governing through consensus. Still, while Mandela rejected any structure formally granting whites a special role in government, he knows he needs them to help build a healthy democracy. The ANC will preside over chaos if the whites who run business, the bureaucracy and the security services resist the next government. The Constitution was hailed around the world as Mandela's greatest victory, but in fact, he has delicately protected the new government against a white counterrevolution.

A new bill of rights will allow blacks forced from their homes under apartheid to seek compensation. But it also will guarantee both landowners and corporations that the government won't take away their property without paying for it--and whites own the lion's share of the nation's wealth. Informal agreements guarantee that the nation's army, police and civil service will remain mostly white for the foreseeable future--a major concession by the ANC. "The ANC will still need the cooperation of these institutions to do virtually anything," says Eugene Nyati, director of the Center for African Studies in Johannesburg. "Institutional guarantees will mean more to whites than the actual wording of the Constitution." Meantime, Mandela has reassured National Party negotiators that the ANC has no plan to govern singlehandedly. For instance, the white finance minister is widely expected to stay on.

Some whites will still balk. The new pact barely nods at the federalist system that de Klerk promised would serve as a check on the black-majority central government. The provinces will write their own constitutions, but the central government will rule in such crucial areas as taxation. It's a bitter disappointment to Zulu and Afrikaner nationalists who are hoping to create quasi-independent bastions. "Today is the beginning of confrontation," warned neofascist leader Eugene Terre'Blanche last week.

Blacks will cause trouble. too. Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who pulled out of the constitutional talks last summer, promised to lead "fierce resistance" to the pact. Buthelezi is attracting growing numbers of disaffected whites. If he chooses to enter the campaign, as seems likely, he could receive as much as 10 percent of the vote nationally and take control of Natal province, where his supporters have waged a low-level war against the ANC. And some leaders of the country's black "homelands," whose fiefdoms would disappear, vow to fight the plan.

Seeing the elections through may well require a show of force. That will test what some are calling a new "culture of negotiation" between the ANC and the government. For the first time, sending in the troops won't be de Klerk's decision alone. Under terms of last week's agreement, a multiparty Transitional Executive Council will function as a parallel government body with the power to oversee army deployments. Both de Klerk's National Party and the ANC fear that an outburst of violence could wreck the launch of the new nation. If they can keep the new agreement on track, that alone will be cause for optimism.

YOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME The deal gives blacks control over government, but includes guarantees designed to reassure the white minority.

Majority elects Parliament

Homelands dissolved

President given broad powers

Guaranteed cabinet posts

Civil-service pensions maintained

Bill of rights protects property-owners