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    Mandela and F.W. de Klerk Share Nobel Peace Prize

    By Paul Taylor
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, October 16, 1993; Page A01

    JOHANNESBURG, OCT. 15 -- The world's most famous former prisoner and his ex-jailer -- African National Congress President Nelson Mandela and South African President Frederik W. de Klerk -- were jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize today for their efforts to dismantle the country's apartheid system of racial separation.

    The Nobel Committee honored the pair for reaching across centuries of racial oppression to negotiate a fragile and as yet unfinished transition to a nonracial democracy. It called their commitment to negotiations a model for resolving racial and ethnic conflicts around the world.

    The jubiliant recipients did not consult before holding separate news conferences -- their personal relationship has never developed beyond strained cordiality -- but nonetheless they expressed nearly identical sentiments.

    Mandela, 75, called the honor a "deeply humbling experience." De Klerk, 57, said he was "basically a modest man, and I was embarrassed in a certain sense of the word." Both said they accepted the prize as encouragement from the world community to complete the task of building of a nonracial South Africa.

    If all goes according to schedule, the political transformation that the unlikely partners set in motion in February 1990 -- when de Klerk released Mandela from prison -- will reach fruition on April 27, when all South Africans, including blacks for the first time, go to the polls to elect a transition government. Mandela is likely to win the presidency and de Klerk a senior position, perhaps the deputy presidency, in a coalition government led by the ANC.

    Since Mandela's release, about 12,000 South Africans have been killed in political violence, with much of the carnage from factional fighting between the ANC and its black political rival, the Inkatha Freedom Party. As election day approaches, Inkatha and parties representing the white right wing have stepped up warnings of civil war.

    Even so, many here agree with President Clinton, who last month said it was a "miracle" that South Africa had progressed as far as it has in a world increasingly riven by bloody racial and ethnic wars.

    {Clinton today called the joint award "an inspired choice" and urged South Africans "who have withdrawn from the common political process to rethink their positions and contribute their efforts to complete the great work undertaken by Presidents Mandela and de Klerk," the White House said.}

    Many say the miracle would never have happened without de Klerk's and Mandela's mix of stature, temperament, steeliness and flexibility.

    "This transition makes for a pretty good argument against historical determinism," political scientist Robert Schrire said. "Had another white leader come to power instead of de Klerk, one could easily see the apartheid regime holding out another five, 10 years. And with a different black leader, someone without Mandela's self-confidence and stature, you could see the ANC feeling pressed to make demands that no negotiating partner could possibly meet.

    "The great credit to them is that they have been able to bring their constituencies along through a very difficult process. This is a country where large portions of each leaders' support base thinks the other leader is evil incarnate."

    The crux of the agreement that de Klerk's ruling National Party and Mandela's ANC have been negotiating for more than three years has been to move toward black-majority rule gradually to assure the 15 percent white minority that its property, living standard, business investments and culture will remain more or less intact.

    There is palpable irony here: After 3 1/2 centuries of white oppression, most of the focus in democracy negotiations has been on the comfort level of the oppressors, not the oppressed.

    But there also has been a quid pro quo. De Klerk's government has essentially agreed to negotiate its own surrender, without ever having suffered a military defeat. Further, it has agreed -- for the price of a piece of the political action for at least the next five years -- to do all it can to smother any backlash that may emerge from white reactionary forces in the military, civilian militia, civil service, business community and society at large.

    Nothing better dramatizes the distance South Africa has traveled than a snapshot of the two Nobel recipients four years ago.

    Mandela, onetime underground commander of the ANC's armed wing, was in his 27th year in prison, serving a life sentence for treason. The public did not know what he even looked like then -- his picture could not appear in any South African publication -- and it was illegal for anyone to speak to him or anyone in his outlawed organization. However, secret negotiations between him and the government began in 1986.

    De Klerk, an orthodox politician from the conservative wing of the party that devised apartheid, was in his second month as president of the world's most abhorred racist regime. He was a compromise choice to take over the party leadership from president Pieter W. Botha, and was not thought of as a man of much vision. In elections the previous month, his National Party lost substantial ground to the hard-line, right-wing Conservative Party.

    But on Feb. 2, 1990, de Klerk committed himself and his government to dismantle apartheid, and nine days later Mandela walked free.

    The historic break was the result of a variety of factors: an internal resistance and "ungovernability" campaign organized by the anti-apartheid movement had raised the psychological cost of state repression to unsustainable levels; a transformation from a mining-based, rural economy to a skills-based, urban-centered, service economy had made apartheid an increasingly inefficient economic system; the unraveling of the Soviet empire had removed the fear that black liberators might bring communists to power; and worldwide sanctions had left South Africa isolated economically, morally, financially and athletically.

    De Klerk's admirers credit him with courage for staying with a process that will ultimately strip him and whites of power. They say he has an admirable tendency to avoid personal invective -- "play the ball, not the man," to use his favorite rugby expression.

    His detractors say he has never grown beyond being the white community's lawyer, striking the best deal he can for a sliver of the population. Even his strategists acknowledge he has given away far more in negotiations than he thought he would have to in 1990, when he believed he could permanently entrench a white-minority veto. His critics also say he has never grappled with the moral -- as opposed to practical -- failings of apartheid.

    Mandela's task has been both easier and more difficult than de Klerk's. As the leader of the liberation forces that will eventually take power, Mandela has not suffered the steady erosion of support among his constituent base that has bedeviled de Klerk.

    But Mandela has not been able to wield the power of incumbency to keep wavering supporters in line. Morever, his party is a far broader and more fractious coalition than de Klerk's National Party. The ANC's support groups range from a small, emerging black middle class to ideologically committed communists, to angry, nihilistic, uneducated township youths who seem certain to turn on the first democratic government as soon as it fails to reach their outsized expectations.

    What has kept them together through this transition has been Mandela's stature as a figure above politics -- wise, firm, gentle, forgiving.

    Mandela is familiar with political street-fighting -- nowhere more so than in his grudging relations with the man who freed him. He once praised de Klerk as a "man of integrity," but on several occasions since, Mandela has all but accused him of being a murderer.

    Today, even in the glow of his Nobel press conference, Mandela declined to repeat his earlier judgment that de Klerk had integrity.

    South African President Frederik W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, join two earlier compatriots in winning the Nobel Peace Prize: Bishop Desmond Tutu (1984) and Zulu chief and African National Congress leader Albert J. Luthuli (1960).

    © Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

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