Violence amid the Rhetoric as Two Nations Fail to Become One; Letter from Johannesburg

By Cohen, Tom | The Birmingham Post (England), June 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

Violence amid the Rhetoric as Two Nations Fail to Become One; Letter from Johannesburg


Cohen, Tom, The Birmingham Post (England)


In the first years after apartheid, South Africa strove to create an aura of harmony and make a place for everyone.

But millions of blacks oppressed under the old racial separation laws are becoming angry over the slow pace of change and fed up with demands for sacrifice in the name of reconciliation.

With an eye to next year's election, politicians are heating up a divisive tone with campaign rhetoric. Recent welublicised attacks, political wrangles and other racially tinged incidents are nourishing doubts about progress.

A white man fired shots that killed a six-month-old black infant. Black sports officials threatened an international boycott of the white-dominated national rugby team. Attacks on white farmers continue, and some right-wing whites are reviving war talk i n retaliation for an unending upward spiral of crime.

The government is warning that unless South Africa's whites do more to help eliminate the disparities lingering from the apartheid era, they will face a backlash. Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, the heir apparent to the conciliatory President Mandela,unde rlined the country's racial divide during a recent Parliament debate on mounting black rage.

"We are not one nation, but two nations," Mr Mbeki said. "And neither are we becoming one nation."

To some extent, the heated rhetoric is a reflection of political jockeying before South Africa's second alace election next year, rather than a sign of a disintegrating society.

President Mandela will retire aged 80 after the election, likely to be held next April or May. His almost certain successor is Mr Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as head of the governing African National Congress in December.

But both President Mandela and Mr Mbeki sounded warnings at the December ANC conference that South Africa's formal reconciliation era will end with Mandela's term. A second ANC-led government will take stronger steps to improve the lives of millionsof b lacks neglected under apartheid, they said.

President Mandela used his final speech as ANC leader to launch an attack that accused just about everyone, including some ANC leaders, of failing to put national needs above personal gain. …

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