CAPE TOWN, South Africa — A few blocks from where President Frederik W. de Klerk delivered his speech to Parliament on Friday, a young activist, microphone in hand and perspiring in the summer sun, was raising his voice at an anti-apartheid rally with the demand that has been heard for decades at gatherings like this in South Africa.
"We demand that De Klerk unban the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party!" the man proclaimed to cheers from the crowd.
As the activist spoke, people all across South Africa were hearing De Klerk meet those demands in a speech broadcast live nationwide. And in the few seconds it took De Klerk to declare "the prohibition on the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party are rescinded," the politics of South Africa underwent a sudden, unprecedented change.
"Quite clearly, in the coming weeks and months, we're going to see a major realignment in white and black politics in South Africa," Robert Shrire, a political scientist at the University of Cape Town, said in an interview Friday night.
Willem de Klerk, a liberal political commentator and brother of the president, added, "We're going in for a difficult time." He predicted "turmoil in the country, for the right wing and the left wing as well."
President De Klerk's surprise decision to lift the 1960 ban on the ANC, the primary guerrilla group fighting white minority-led rule; its ally, the South African Communist Party, and its guerrilla rival, the Pan-Africanist Congress, has altered the future, perhaps irrevocably, political analysts say.
"He caught everybody by surprise, particularly the ANC and the PAC. He called their bluff," said Thami Mazwai, senior assistant editor of the Sowetan newspaper.
Although it is still too early to tell for sure what effect De Klerk's moves will have on South Africa's internal politics, analysts see significant shifts in the National Party, which has ruled South Africa since 1948, as well as in the ANC.
And they say that when negotiations begin--if they begin--between the government and black leaders, the sharp differences over their visions of a future South Africa will become apparent.
"I'm not optimistic," Shrire said, "because there isn't much common ground between the government and the ANC."
The government has indicated a willingness to negotiate the dismantling of apartheid, for example, particularly the laws that provide for racial segregation in neighborhoods, prevent blacks from owning land in large parts of the country and deny blacks a say in Parliament.
But the two sides are far apart on two of the most significant questions facing any constitution writers: black majority rule and the economic system.
The ANC has demanded black majority rule, while the government believes it can give blacks a vote in national affairs while still protecting the white minority, outnumbered 5 to 1 by blacks. Up to now, the government has given no indication that it is prepared to allow anyone other than whites to have the final say on substantive matters facing the country.
The ANC also wants to nationalize key industries, such as the mines and banks, and return at least some white-owned land and resources to the black majority. The South African government, which is in the process of privatizing some state-owned industries, wants a capitalist economy.
"Democracy is not negotiable," Stoffel van der Merwe, the government's minister of education, said Friday. "We don't want to create anything but a democracy."
But the government is far from ready to step aside. President De Klerk has flatly refused demands that he dissolve his government and form a transitional, multiracial government and constituent assembly to decide the country's future. Anti-apartheid leaders and some political analysts see the eventual demise of the white-led government as the only possible avenue to change in the country.
"The question is: Is De Klerk prepared to negotiate away Afrikaner dominance?" Shrire said, referring to the descendants of the Dutch, French and German settlers of South Africa. "If he is, we can be cautiously optimistic about the future. But at this point, the government hasn't shown any willingness to be junior partners in a majority-ruled government."
Patrick Lekota, publicity secretary for the United Democratic Front anti-apartheid coalition, which is aligned with the ANC, says he believes that De Klerk and other Afrikaners "have come to realize they can no longer go on in the old way."
"But they are afraid of making the necessary compromises," Lekota said in an recent interview. "And what we are really asking of the National Party is that it must undo apartheid and destroy itself."
In the meantime, political analysts see the National Party losing some of its more conservative members to the right-wing Conservative Party and gaining support from the liberal Democratic Party, whose policies it has followed since De Klerk came to power in September.
The ANC may face problems transforming itself from a guerrilla force into a political force, and the wide divisions in black politics between moderates and radicals will soon become even more apparent.