Anyone who has followed the escalating violence in South Africa's black townships must have wondered why blacks, who for most of this century have been oppressed by a white minority government and who now stand on the threshold of achieving political empowerment in their native land, have suddenly fallen to fighting among themselves.
For months now the African National Congress, the country's oldest anti-apartheid organization, has claimed the government is deliberately fomenting the violence as a way of scuttling negotiations aimed at establishing a true multi-racial democracy.
That charge was corroborated this week by a former South African Army officer, Maj. Nico Basson, who told journalists that the military has been supplying weapons and covert assistance to the Inkatha Freedom Party to attack and weaken the ANC by battling its followers and aggravating rivalries among blacks.
It's unclear whether South African President F.W. de Klerk was aware of the army's role in the violence or, even if he was, whether he could do anything to halt it. But last month ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela threatened to break off talks between the ANC and the government altogether unless the killing stopped. Now the talks are effectively on hold. Unless de Klerk can reassert his government's authority over the military, the credibility of his reforms is in doubt.
That is why this is no time to relax international sanctions against South Africa. Sanctions so far have been the only effective means to force the government to come to terms with the country's black majority. Keeping the pressure on until an agreement is reached is still the best chance for ensuring a peaceful transition to majority rule by convincing hard-liners in the military and elsewhere that maintaining apartheid simply isn't worth the cost.