After Mandela, what? South Africa: As ANC patriarchs retire, commitment to non-racialism will be tested.


MIDWAY THROUGH his term, President Nelson Mandela, 78, is very much in charge in South Africa. He is also exerting moral leadership throughout the continent, trying to bring democracy to Nigeria and intervening in a political crisis in Zambia. Yet his high profile and energy mask a momentous change: power is gradually shifting from anti-apartheid patriarchs to younger African National Congress members.

This transition will become evident in the coming months, when two of Mr. Mandela's most trusted lieutenants are expected to retire due to poor health. Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo, 71, kept the continent's oldest liberation organization alive and ran it from Zambia during all the years Mr. Mandela was serving his life sentence on Robben Island. And Defense Minister Joe Modise, 67, commanded Umkhonto we Sizwe, ANC's military wing, out of Tanzania.

Although their names may not be household names in the U.S., Messrs. Nzo and Modise were instrumental in keeping ANC true to the principles of its 1956 Freedom Charter. That document reaffirmed the group's goal of non-racialism and accepted liberal democratic institutions as the ideal form of government.

Theirs was not an easy task. ANC principles came repeatedly under attack not only from the white supremacist government but from black political rivals. The Pan-Africanist Congress, for example, argued that ANC's commitment to non-racialism was a pipe dream that ignored the nature of white supremacy. Later, Steve Biko's Black Consciousness Movement similarly condemned talk about integration as a ploy by white liberals to maintain control.

Mr. Mandela has stuck to the ideal of non-racialism. There is evidence, though, that uncompromising elements are trying to reassert themselves. Only Mr. Mandela's fierce opposition prevented reintroduction of the death penalty. As details are revealed before the Truth Commission of gruesome crimes committed against blacks by whites under apartheid, pressure grows on the government to abandon its announced policy of amnesty.

Mr. Mandela's authority is so great that non-racialism is certain to remain the ANC policy during his lifetime. But as patriarchs retire, that philosophy may come under renewed attack from advocates of undiluted black power.

Pub Date: 11/18/96

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