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TV REVIEWS : Two Views of South Africa's Politics

March 26, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER

South African President F. W. de Klerk's revelation Wednesday that South Africa built, then destroyed, nuclear weapons is a stark measure of the changes in the Horn of Africa. The announcement arrives in a political climate where revolution through the ballot box may come in a year's time, and where De Klerk must dramatize a new openness to the Western industrial powers the country is so dependent upon.

How far South African politics has come is also easily seen in two broadcasts, starting with tonight's "Talking With David Frost" (9 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28) and continuing Tuesday with reporter John Matisonn's "Frontline" appraisal, "Apartheid's Last Stand" (10 p.m., KCET-TV Channel 28). They're two starkly different ways of relaying South Africa's complexities to the U.S. viewer.

As he shows in three one-on-one talks with De Klerk, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Frost remains a great interviewer, nudging the leaders to reveal their personal as well as political sides.

Interestingly, while Mandela appears to be the one most on his guard--uneasily explaining why he and rival Buthelezi haven't spoken to each other for two years--he is also the most personable as he relates memories of his more than 20 years in prison.

But while Matisonn's report suggests that De Klerk's government, through the military, aided Inkatha's bloody skirmishes with ANC supporters, De Klerk and Buthelezi couldn't be more different with Frost. The white leader tries to soothe with a message of optimism, while the Zulu leader warns darkly of a "50-50" chance of civil war.

All this talk, though, is really looking forward to the country's first open, post-apartheid election. And Matisonn's analysis looks forward to this as well, but without Frost's pleasantries. "Apartheid's Last Stand" is a remarkably broad and insightful anatomy of South Africa's evolving politics.

Matisonn's excellent National Public Radio dispatches from South Africa have always been cool observations of the country's politics blended with impassioned portraits of violence and courage. He clearly considers Buthelezi to be a terrible thorn in the side of progress, Mandela a great survivor and De Klerk a fascinating changeling. But here, his primary concern is with how Mandela and De Klerk have maintained a rocky relationship, united out of fear of civil war.

Although Matisonn may be accurate in inferring that as this pair goes so goes the country, the wild cards he ignores or barely acknowledges--from Buthelezi to the white-separatist Conservative Party to the Communist Party within the ANC--could destroy anything resembling the promised "government of national unity."

It's a brilliant anatomy, though, which should have aired March 2 on KCET when the program was broadcast nationally on the PBS network. That it didn't fit into the station's pledge drive plans is silly, for news of the resumption of South African constitutional talks on April 5 makes some of Matisonn's report already out of date.

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