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S. AFRICAN BLACKS FEEL BOTH RELIEF AND PAIN OVER WHITE REFERENDUM

Pain and disappointment are prominent among the emotions experienced by many black South Africans concerning the referendum in which the white minority decided the future of reform in our country.

We are pained because it has been deeply distressing for us, the majority, to have been relegated once again to the status of objects about whom decisions are made. The exciting advances of the past two years - the release of Nelson Mandela and others, the unbanning of political organizations, the return of exiles and the beginning of constitutional negotiations - have all been steps toward including blacks in decisionmaking.This time we were pushed back to the pre-1990 era, sidelined and excluded from having any say in a momentous choice affecting our lives in the most intimate way. We were held ransom. A "no" vote on F.W. de Klerk's reforms was theoretically possible and South Africa would have suffered a catastrophe at the hands of a small minority of the population.

Many people appear to expect that we should be excited at the "yes" vote. We have been disappointed because of the West's lack of sensitivity to our feelings. At least one country, Denmark, has directly linked the lifting of various sanctions to the outcome of this racist exercise. These attitudes reinforce the perception in Africa that racism still permeates the Western mind-set.

Our response to the referendum has been ambivalent. De Klerk presented us with a fait accompli which we had no choice but to endure. Still, against that background, the landslide vote was a great relief, a triumph for good sense, even a triumph for democracy. We dare to hope that our white compatriots have shown they want to be regarded as Africans who will live harmoniously and at peace with other Africans.

The president said in his response to the result that there was some justice in letting those who opened the book of apartheid, the whites, be the ones to close it. But on the very same day, one could still see the arithmetic of apartheid applied in the national budget. The level of pensions paid to senior citizens still depends on the color of the recipients' skin.

Nevertheless, we might have conceded there was some validity in de Klerk's observation had it been accompanied by a word of contrition. What a tremendous healing impact he would have made if, at that moment of high triumph for him, he had added such words as: "And we are sorry for the pain and the suffering that apartheid caused you, our fellow South Africans, who did not participate in this referendum."

Real reconciliation will occur only if there is repentance for past wrongs, only if those who have been wronged are in turn willing to forgive, and only if those forgiven then make restitution where possible.

De Klerk has received the mandate he said he required. Now he must move like proverbial greased lightning. There is no reason why we should not have an interim government in place by the middle of this year. I would like to see a constituent assembly operating by the end of the year, a new constitution in place by June 1993 and very soon thereafter the calling of truly democratic national elections.

But there is no need to wait for a representative government before improving the lives of black South Africans. The changes of the past two years have not yet brought any tangible benefits to the vast majority, and political parties are under pressure from those who question whether negotiations are really achieving anything.

To provide an atmosphere conducive to talks, it is critical that urgent interim steps be taken in a number of areas. There is a massive shortage of housing, and it is a volatile situation. Education is in crisis. We cannot afford to have teachers being retrenched in white schools, as is happening, when there is a critical need for teachers in the black community. Health care must be made more accessible. The government must set up programs and projects for relieving hunger and poverty.

Crucial as these areas are, the top priority should be to end the scandalous violence which plagues us. Even the most rabid skeptic must now admit that there is a rogue element in the security forces intent on subverting the negotiation process.

How else do we explain the fact that an upsurge of violence almost always coincides with an important event in the calendar of our country? Those who indiscriminately kill railway commuters don't ask their victims about their political or tribal affiliations, making nonsense of the claim that the attacks stem from political or tribal rivalries.

Until 1990, our police force was extremely efficient. It could ferret out insurgents secretly infiltrated into the country. Now people are openly carrying weapons, killing others in broad daylight. And we are supposed to believe the police have suddenly become inept.

We desperately and urgently need a professional, neutral police force that will be a competent peacekeeping agency. Until we do, violence will escalate and undermine negotiations. De Klerk must purge his security forces. All his initiatives will be in vain if he does not move to end the violence as effectively as he would have done if whites were getting killed.

He must also show right-wing whites that violence is not a viable option for them. This beautiful country is large enough for them, too - for Dr. Andries Treurnicht, leader of the Conservative Party, and for Eugene Terreblanche of the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement - provided they don't promote their views violently.

We need to tell them that, in the new South Africa, they would be free to hold their antediluvian points of view as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. Of course, we hope that ultimately they would see that their interests were best served by adopting the democratic ideal.

South Africa can provide a model for the world by celebrating our glorious diversity, a diversity of culture, language and race which God has given to show us that we are made for interdependence, fellowship and togetherness.

1992 New Perspectives Quarterly

Distributed by L.A. Times Syndicate