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Dangerous fault lines persist in South African society.

In early June, the white-ruled South African government and antiapartheid forces led by the African National Congress neared agreement on a 1994 date for the first nonracial and truly democratic elections in South Africa's history.

This should be a cause of jubilation, but also sober reflection on the heavy cost in lives paid in the past -- and possibly in the future. Despite this hopeful if belated development, South Africa's racial, class and generational fault lines continue to generate unbearable social tensions that -- if not eased -- may soon explode.

The agreement was reached after three years of hard bargaining interrupted by political impasses, massacres, revelations of government funding of anti-ANC forces, exposes of death squads that targeted ANC activists, and assassinations. Many governments, including ours, stopped using the leverage of economic sanctions in 1991-92 to press Pretoria to change -- yet South Africa's black majority still does not enjoy the right to vote and to freely choose who will rule the country in 1993.

The delay has been primarily a product of white intransigence. Time and again, it has been ANC and other antiapartheid leaders among the 26 groups negotiating on a new South Africa who have made political concessions in order to maintain momentum towards democratic rule. They have decided that an imperfect transition to democracy is a small price to pay for actually getting there.

If the white minority has a future in South Africa despite its past complicity in the criminal enterprise called apartheid, it will be thanks to the patience of Nelson Mandela and many other black leaders. They have expended hard-won political capital and credibility among many of their own followers in an effort to build a truly nonracial South Africa.

It seems quixotic, in the era of ex-Yugoslavian hatreds, Sri Lankan fratricide and Liberian ethnic massacres, to hear the ANC's Nelson Mandela evoke the vision of a shared future for blacks and whites: to hear him and others argue, in the words of the Freedom Charter adopted by the ANC almost four decades ago, that "South Africa belongs to all of those who live in it, black and white."

While that dream may yet become a reality, it risks being consumed by a firestorm of grassroots anger at the continuing poverty, injustice and racism of black people's daily lives. The American Committee on Africa recently detailed some of these stark legacies of apartheid:

* Only 10 percent of residents in black townships have access to electricity;

* Black unemployment currently tops 40 percent;

* Sixty-one percent of black infants' deaths are caused by malnutrition;

* Forty-five percent of South Africans are illiterate;

* More than 7.5 million urban blacks live in self-built shanties and tents without electricity or plumbing.

The surface political changes since 1990 have left such legacies untouched, including the yawning gap between the wealth of whites and blacks. One white-owned corporation, Anglo-American, owns 44 percent of all South African corporate stocks. By contrast, all black-owned businesses together account for less than 1 percent of South Africa's total economic output. With unchanging statistics like these, who needs radical ideologies to stir up black anger? =Pretoria's modest steps toward change seem mockingly inadequate to those unrepresented in government, unserved by public services, crippled by decades of neglect. Black students and teachers still attend windowless schools that resemble war memorials.

As we went to press, 80,000 black teachers wre threatening to strike for better pay and working conditions. Police had moved to suppress massive student protests over examinatino fees.

The Pretoria government, overtly or covertly, has sought to sow discord among antiapartheid forces in the past three years. To some extent, it has succeeded, a success it may likely live to regret.

Already, violence among black political groups contrived by the white minority government has provided the tinder for other conflagrations. And demands by far-right Afrikaaners and Kwazulu leader Gatsha Buthelezi, along with other Bantustan leaders, for their own state are raising the specter of vicious micronationalisms pitted against one another.

All this gives added urgency to the need to move toward free and fair elections, to constitute a democratic government, and for that government to take up the task of massive social reconstruction of an apartheid-devastated society.

To do so, it will need massive aid, from our government and others. Unpopular as foreign aid is these days, it is vitally necessary -- if South Africa is to avoid "the fire next time."
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 18, 1993
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