The release from prison of Govan Mbeki, chairman of the African National Congress, is the most important recent step by the South African government to implement its promise to negotiate the future of the nation with the black majority.
Mbeki was released, we are told, without conditions. This is the first sign that the government recognizes the inappropriateness of earlier demands that ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela, renounce the use of force as a condition for release. A government that has resorted to extreme force and repression to affirm its control, and has denied normal political rights to a majority of its citizens, cannot reasonably expect its opponents to renounce force.
This action will be of real importance if it proves to be a step in an evolving process of freeing all of the ANC leadership, including Mandela, and legalizing the ANC. The ANC does not speak for all South African blacks, but it speaks for most. No meaningful negotiations are possible without it.
There was another recent sign of compromise on the part of President Pieter W. Botha. He implemented an interracial administration that links the leadership of Kwazulu, homeland of the Zulus, with the white leadership of Natal. It falls short of the integrated administration first proposed by Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, leader of the Zulus, but it serves as a model for power sharing, a welcome departure from apartheid.
Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, has told Botha what he must "release all our leaders" if he is to influence the "intractable situation" gripping the nation. Obviously. Mbeki's release is at best a beginning.