The unadorned violence that South African security forces have unleashed on peaceful anti-apartheid protesters in recent weeks is a reminder that, despite all his talk about reform and negotiation, the priority of the country's new leader, Frederik W. de Klerk, is the perpetuation of white-minority control.
De Klerk, a longtime National Party leader from conservative Transvaal province, has worked diligently to provide apartheid with tempered rhetoric and a smiling visage. He has sought to improve South Africa's international image by traveling to neighboring countries and meeting with his counterparts including, most recently, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. Unfortunately, De Klerk has yet to provide his unpopular regime with an alternative to violent suppression of the aspirations of black South Africans.
Wednesday's parliamentary elections --from which blacks, who constitute more than 75% of the population, are excluded--have provided the catalyst for renewed mass protests throughout the country. This has suprised many well-meaning people who hope that the National Party will win,presuming that De Klerk would be more supportive of fundamental change than his predecessor. This hope is, sadly, misplaced. Of all the potential successors to former President Pieter W. Botha, none was more conservative than De Klerk. Those who have read too much from his demeanor and vague statements and are moved to urge a relaxation of the international pressure on South Africa overlook De Klerk's long career, including his years as head of the interior and education ministries.
The outcome of this week's election holds little relevance to the black people of South Africa since the elections merely determine who gets the opportunity to oppress them. The solicitude with which so many people discuss the present electoral difficulties of De Klerk's party is disturbing, given its history in matters of race and equality. It is certainly not too much to ask that more concern be expressed for the worsening state of the victims of apartheid during the current crackdown.
In order to gain favor with the white electorate, De Klerk has ordered one of the severest crackdowns on protesters in recent history. Observers, including foreign diplomats, have commented on the eagerness with which the police, using tear gas, water hoses, whips, clubs and bullets, have moved to disperse and disrupt peaceful demonstrations. There have been mass arrests conducted violently without provocation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was tear-gassed minutes after he had persuaded youths to call off a march to a police station; on Friday, he was arrested while en route to protest the beating of clergymen at an earlier demonstration. The general secretary of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front, Mohammed Valli Moosa, Archbishop Tutu's wife, Leah, and Dorothy Boesak, wife of UDF co-founder the Rev. Allan Boesak, are among others who have been arrested. Several activists have gone underground, afraid not only of arrest but also of assassination by vigilante groups.
The escalating repression has sparked criticism of De Klerk's policies from many quarters. Curiously, the Bush Administration has not been one of them. Though South Africa is experiencing a level of repression far exceeding anything experienced by Solidarity in Poland, the Administration cannot find the courage to chastise the South African regime. Indeed, even the limited response by the Administration to the crushing of the democratic movement in China has been missing in this case.
In light of such silence by our chief executive, it is now up to the American people and Congress to express our outrage and to work for a better South Africa. Our goal should be the rapid dismantling of apartheid and nothing less. De Klerk should be judged not by what he says, but by what he actually does.