The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
  • South Africa Report
  • Time Line


    De Klerk Proposes Blacks Join Interim Rule

    By David B. Ottaway
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, December 21, 1991; Page A01

    JOHANNESBURG, DEC. 20 -- President Frederik W. de Klerk proposed today that South Africa's black majority join the white minority in forming an elected interim government and parliament to run the country and draw up a new non-racial constitution.

    The dramatic new proposal came on the opening day of a multi-party constitutional convention attended by leaders of all races here. It raised the possibility of blacks participating in both a referendum on amending the constitution and in national elections by the middle of next year when some form of multi-racial interim government is expected to be established.

    Today's upbeat atmosphere was marred at the end by a bitter exchange between African National Congress President Nelson Mandela and President de Klerk over the ANC's refusal to disclose the location of its hidden arms caches. It was not clear whether the quarrel, which involved some of the sharpest public exchanges ever between the two men, would affect prospects for the talks.

    The president had said earlier, before the disagreement erupted, that "all South Africans" should become part of the constitutional negotiations and decision-making process through "their democratically elected representatives" and that he was ready to amend the present constitution to establish "a newly constituted parliament."

    "We are convinced that it is in the best interests of South Africa and all its people for us to institute expeditiously as a first phase a government that is broadly representative of the total population," he said.

    De Klerk indicated that he was making the proposal as a counter to demands by the ANC, the government's main negotiating partner, for elections based on one person-one vote to create a constituent assembly to write the new constitution.

    The government opposes a constituent assembly elected on one person-one vote because it would lose the election. The government apparently hopes its new plan will somehow give it more control in the interim parliament to influence the negotiating process.

    The government's complex plan calls for the convention to come to agreement on the formation of a new government, which would require amending the constitution. These constitutional changes in turn would have to be approved in a referendum, de Klerk said, in which whites, Indians and mixed-race Coloreds would vote on their separate voting rolls, but blacks would vote as well.

    "All South Africans must participate in the referendum," he said, adding, "Elections must be held as well."

    Assuming the amended constitution is approved by the referendum, elections would then be held for the "newly constituted parliament," which would run the government during the transitional period and draw up a new constitution.

    While de Klerk left vague on what basis these elections would be held, an aide said later he believed they would have to be one person-one vote, with blacks and whites registered on the same voters' roll.

    De Klerk's proposal came at the end of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) that has brought together 228 delegates from 19 political parties and black homelands. It began with a flurry of speeches hailing the dawn of a new era in South Africa's history and the start of an irreversible process that would soon see the end of 340 years of white minority rule here.

    Mandela, speaking in Afrikaans, the language of the ruling white minority Afrikaner people, said in his address to the convention that "with CODESA, the situation in our country is irreversible.

    "The process of moving towards democracy is unstoppable," Mandela said. "History grants all of us a unique opportunity. . . . The time for one South Africa, one nation, one vote, one future is here."

    The sharp exchange between de Klerk and Mandela came late in the day. For half an hour, Mandela delivered a diatribe carried on national radio and television against de Klerk for having attacked the ANC for allegedly not honoring an earlier undertaking to disclose the whereabouts of its secret arms caches. The president had said the fact that the ANC still had "a private army places a question mark" over whether it should be allowed to participate in the convention.

    He was referring to the ANC's military wing, known as Spear of the Nation, which operates outside South Africa but has soldiers inside the country as well, although the ANC has formally suspended all armed action.

    Mandela, insisting on the right of reply, said de Klerk had exercised poor taste and judgment to bring up the issue, which was already under intensive discussions between the government and the ANC.

    Even the head of "an illegitimate, discredited, minority regime" had "certain moral standards to uphold," he said, denouncing de Klerk for using the convention podium for "petty political gains."

    If de Klerk could not stem the violence wracking the country or control his police's alleged involvement in stirring it up, "he's not fit to be a head of a government," Mandela said.

    De Klerk was livid. Pounding his hand on the table and sometimes at a loss for words in English as he in turn insisted on the right of reply, the president said the government had reached "an absolute stalemate" in talks with the ANC about the arms caches and that the issue was so important it risked "inhibiting" progress at the convention.

    "It's a matter that must be solved," he said.

    Equally dramatic at the start of the convention was a formal apology by a senior official of the white ruling National Party for the "conflict" and "injustice" inflicted upon blacks by its apartheid policy of racial separation.

    "It was not the intention to deprive other people of their rights and to contribute to their misery. But eventually it led to just that. Insofar as that occurred, we deeply regret it," said Dawie de Villiers, leader of the National Party delegation.

    Boycotting the talks were half a dozen white right-wing and black radical groups that have been issuing threats to start a civil war. Mandela called upon them to reconsider their rejection of the negotiating process lest they be blamed by the world for prolonging the suffering of all South Africans and "poisoning the search for peace in our country."

    Another notable absentee was Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, who refused to attend after the convention rejected his request that the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, be invited.

    © Copyright 1991 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar