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Commitment to Reconciliation

April 23, 1986

The election of Desmond Tutu as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town is a major event in the process of change under way in South Africa.

He had already established his leadership role with his election in 1984 as the bishop of Johannesburg. His new position establishes him as the primate of the Anglican Church's South Africa province that embraces Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia as well as South Africa.

Since Tutu gained world attention with the award of his Nobel Peace Prize, the South African government and segments of the popular press have worked overtime to belittle his role, to suggest that he was not an accepted leader. The attacks have now been repudiated. He must be taken seriously.

He has committed himself "to work for justice, peace and reconciliation" and "for fundamental change." The white-run government has also seemed to be saying some of the same things, even setting a date to end the pass laws. But neither the cries of the blacks, and the increasing violence generated by continued repression, nor the promises of the government have produced significant reform.

The desperation of the situation is manifest in increasing police violence against young people, reported in a study by the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights in New York City. The evidence is at once appalling and persuasive, and makes more understandable the fury of the black reaction to new repression as yet another generation is infused with hatred.

Tutu's greatest challenge may very well be in finding some way to facilitate a response to the negotiations promised by the government, or at least to test Pretoria's sincerity. Until now, no black has dared to respond, or even to suggest how those talks might be contrived, because of the tyranny of terrorism that has been unleashed, black against black. But Tutu, with his new prestige, his new mandate, could serve effectively as an instrument to begin that complex process.

The government itself can facilitate that process by making clear at the August "reform" session of Parliament that all blacks, including those now locked in prisons and those in exile, will be eligible to join at the negotiating table. It will be important that the government match its rhetoric with actions that will build confidence where there has been no cause for confidence in the past. And it will be important for the government to do as the archbishop has done, and make "reconciliation"a part of its commitment.

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