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Feb. 13, 1990 Editorial: South Africa's big step on a path to justice

Note: This editorial was originally published February 13, 1990, two days after Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

With the release of Nelson Mandela, South Africa took one long step on the road from violence and tyranny toward justice and peace. It was a step deserving of all the jubilation that attended it.

Still ahead, though, lie dangers that could arise from both sides – from reactionary, racist whites and from angry, uncompromising blacks. It’s up to moderates of both sides now to move courageously in the face of that heat into negotiations that will make peace and justice in that unhappy country a reality.

But peace and justice will not be achieved by arriving at some negotiated middle ground between democracy and apartheid, at a kind of quasi-apartheid that moves blacks, so long denied equal rights and opportunities, toward the mainstream, but not into it.

What Americans routinely take as a fundamental tenet of democracy – the idea of one-man, one-vote – still sadly is considered a radical idea among some South African whites, a prescription for black domination. And indeed, the principles of democracry demand that the idea of one-man, one-vote does not become a vehicle for turning apartheid on its head, a way for the majority to oppress the minority.

Essentially, progress now is in the hands of South Africans. But it is important that U.S. sanctions continue until most of the clearly stated requirements of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act are met.

The mere recitation of those requirements – release of all political prisoners, agreement to negotiate the country’s future in good faith, the lifting of the state of emergency and substantial progress toward

dismantling apartheid – illuminates the length of the journey ahead.