For the first time since 1910, blacks in South Africa will soon participate in the governing of their country. An agreement to create a new, black-majority "transition council" emerged in mid-September after weeks of rancorous debate between representatives of the nation's political parties, with the task of overseeing the government until open elections are held next April.
South African anti-apartheid leaders called the council's formation "a historic moment." Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary-general of the African National Congress, said the accord marks "one of the final steps in bringing down the edifice of apartheid."
Other observers, however, tempered their optimism. "On paper, it's very important," Eve Thompson, staff attorney for the South Africa Project of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told Sojourners, "but it remains to be seen how effective it will be in practice."
Thompson expressed concern at government statements following the agreement. "The government said that the council 'does not in any way supplant the government.' Is this a sign of resistance to cooperate with the council? We'll just have to watch the situation with caution and skepticism." Despite her concerns, Thompson said she was hopeful at the country's continuing progress toward majority rule.
Observers expect the ANC to call off economic sanctions in the days ahead, and Nelson Mandela has urged foreign investment to help repair the devastation caused by decades of apartheid. But the journey to come will be an arduous one, with violence in the townships and elsewhere likely to escalate between now and next spring's elections--which, Thompson observed, will mark the beginning, not the end, of the dismantling of apartheid.
Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners. Jill Lafferty assisted with research.