South Africa is moving so swiftly on some fronts that its biggest need is to catch up with itself on others. Nigeria's President Ibrahim Babangida, chairman of the Organization of African Unity, welcomed South Africa's President F. W. de Klerk as "the man who closed the book on apartheid." It will be hard for any government's sanctions to remain in place long after that.
But for South Africa to move into economic leadership of all Africa, its peoples have to share power with each other. And that is becoming more difficult as the violence between Xhosa-African National Congress people on one side and Zulu-Inkatha Freedom Party people on the other grows worse. The nightmare of Zulu gunmen randomly murdering Xhosa workers on commuter trains outside Johannesburg is a measure of how far South Africa must go to rid itself of the violence that the apartheid regime for so long fostered.
And President Babangida cannot take President de Klerk by the hand into the OAU unless one indispensable man, the elderly Nelson Mandela, the ANC leader, goes along. It will be hard for him or the ANC to play the role required until it cleanses itself of the culture of violence that crept in during its many years of underground survival and revolutionary posture.
Mr. Mandela's sad announcement of intention to divorce Winnie Mandela, his wife of 34 years, who helped him survive 27 years of imprisonment, comes at least partly to prepare for his role. No one may ever know his true personal thoughts. Mrs. Mandela had become too great a burden for the ANC to bear. Many of its leaders despised her. Her party roles, which she has resigned, were owed to her husband's forceful support.
Mrs. Mandela is appealing a six-year prison sentence for kidnapping and accessory to assault in the death of a young man, at her home in 1988, at the hands of the young thugs with whom she surrounded herself. The recanting of one witness, since the trial, implicates her in murder in the public mind, whatever the courts decide. All this cannot be dismissed as white regime entrapment.
Mr. Mandela, who has always supported his wife's innocence, attributed the breakup to political differences. Once hailed for courage and dedication to the cause, Mrs. Mandela has fallen from grace in the ANC. Mr. Mandela, aging and tired from decades of struggle and prison, must go on without her help to guide South Africa to the place in the African sun where President Babangida says it belongs. The people who are still killing each other in Soweto make that passage far more difficult.