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S. Africa's Direction

THE move toward inclusive politics in South Africa appears irreversible. The Convention for a Democratic South Africa, which convened in December with representatives from nearly every political and ethnic group, has become the country's most important political body.

CODESA, not the white Parliament now sitting in Cape Town's grand House of Assembly, will chart the future.

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But President Frederik de Klerk can't write off the old Parliament as easily as the African National Congress (ANC) and other opposition groups can. The white legislature has never had any legitimacy for them.

Mr. De Klerk's hold on power, however, depends on his National Party majority within Parliament. And that once-dominant party feels white support slipping away to the Conservatives, who reject the move toward multiracial democracy and want a right of self-determination for whites.

De Klerk wants to stop the slippage. His remarks at the opening of Parliament cautiously supported putting white self-determination before CODESA. This is an attempt to bring the extreme right-wing into the negotiation process, and it's not opposed by the ANC.

De Klerk also proposed a separate white vote on any transition plan that CODESA comes up with - a proposal quickly scorned by the ANC as a "white veto." The president's hope is that the CODESA plan will be a statement of principles that white voters will readily support.

That approach may prove practical, but the goal of bringing black South Africans into full and equal political participation as quickly as possible is paramount. The decisive vote on a new plan of government, or a method of arriving at one, has to be by all South Africans. Ethnic vetoes retain the old racial taint.

How far can De Klerk go down the path of reform while having to bend backwards to maintain a semblance of white prerogatives? His Jan. 28 crackdown on the leadership of the extremist Afrikaner Resistance Movement showed that while he's ready to put the concerns of pro-apartheid whites on the table, he's also willing to take a tough stand against those who would undermine the process of peaceful change.

Voices of conciliation are much needed in South Africa - to affirm that blacks and other nonwhites will have a clear stake in a new government and that the fundamental rights of all the country's people will be respected.

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