The symbolic meeting between African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi in a hotel in Durban was a promise for the future of South Africa. Nothing less, and nothing more. The promise is to halt the factional fighting between their groups, which is also ethnic conflict between Xhosa and Zulu peoples that claimed 5,000 lives in five years. Without fulfillment, the black empowerment being negotiated with the white government of President F. W. De Klerk will come to nothing but bloodshed.
The first meeting since 1962 between the old comrades, Mr. Mandela and Chief Buthelezi, was nostalgic and amicable enough for themselves and their large delegations. But that is not the point. They need to institutionalize contacts and coexistence throughout their organizations, overcoming decades of ideological distrust and ethnic hostility. That the leaders will it to be does not automatically make it so, for the hold of either on local political bosses, in the case of Inkatha, and long-exiled ideologues, in ANC, may be slight.
They need to devote their leadership to making their coexistence stick. To the extent that strife may have been helped along by secret police provocateurs, that would not have worked without something to work with. If such activity continues, it would attest to the lack of hold of one other South African leader over his followers, President De Klerk himself. Conflict must be overcome by a firm cooperation that would include, as Mr. Mandela said, the right to disagree.
The necessary accord is not accomplished by pronouncing this first meeting a success. The leaders must push collaboration, to make the most of the reforms that are expected to be announced by Mr. De Klerk at the opening of the white parliament on Friday. If these reforms erase the legal basis of apartheid in land ownership, release all political prisoners and end all states of emergency, the stage will be set for the United States to end economic sanctions against South Africa.
But without peace between the Zulu and Xhosa components of the black majority, which requires peace between their leading political organizations, all the reforms and the end of sanctions would not make much difference for the vast majority of South Africans.