NELSON MANDELA has been described by some of his colleagues in the African National Congress as a man whose social manners are drawn from an earlier, more courtly age. For a politician in the late 20th century it is a characteristic that carries with it some dangers. For example, he cannot tell a lie.
So when he was asked by reporters in the United States, where he is now on a visit, what he thought of right-wing demands for an independent Afrikaner "homeland", he flatly ruled out demarcating a piece of South African territory along ethnic lines.
Faithful a reflection of ANC policy as this was, its timing was unfortunate: it gave hardliners on the right wing a pretext to pull out of talks with the ANC.
After it had been revealed in a joint statement last Friday that the ANC had been negotiating secretly with the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), an umbrella right-wing body headed by retired army general Constand Viljoen, the ANC told its officials not to make any further comments. Evidently the message did not cross the Atlantic.
On Wednesday, the AVF announced withhdrawal from all bilateral contacts with the ANC and the government of F W de Klerk. A statement by General Viljoen and …