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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

South African Leaders Patch Up Differences

PRETORIA -- President Nelson Mandela and Deputy President F.W. de Klerk patched up differences Friday to defuse a crisis threatening their fragile unity government.

The dispute was rooted in a secret amnesty granted to 3,500 policemen in the final days of apartheid and revealed last week.

De Klerk said he was "viciously" insulted by Mandela's African National Congress at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting on the issue.

De Klerk, president of the last apartheid regime before the ANC swept April's first all-race elections, hinted Thursday to a congress of his National Party that the ANC-dominated Cabinet needed to be more courteous or face a walkout by his party.

Though Mandela and the ANC would continue to rule, withdrawal by the main party representing South Africa's white minority would shatter the investor confidence Mandela needs to rebuild the country and derail the delicate process of racial reconciliation.

Mandela and De Klerk appeared Friday at a joint briefing after a meeting at which de Klerk had challenged Mandela to recognize the National Party's good faith. They said they still trusted each other and wanted a fresh start.

"My confidence in Mr. Mandela was shaken," De Klerk said of the Cabinet row. "I'm glad that today we could find each other on the basis of not either of the two of us climbing down."

The ease with which the two men settled the dispute suggested it was more a personality clash than a substantive parting of ways.

"When you take into account that our history is that of a society divided from top to bottom where there was no mutual trust, the differences that arise are few and far between," Mandela said.

The issue that sparked the conflict -- a last-minute amnesty for three top-ranking security officials and 3,500 police officers -- remained unresolved Friday.

The Cabinet decided Wednesday to declare the last-minute amnesties invalid, despite National Party protests.

According to their joint statement, Mandela and de Klerk held their differing views but agreed those who received amnesty should have the situation cleared up as quickly as possible.

The ANC opposed the amnesties, calling them an attempt by de Klerk to prevent his cronies and police who imposed hated apartheid laws from having to disclose their crimes.

De Klerk insisted the amnesties were granted legally and were similar to those given to thousands of ANC members.

The ANC rejected the comparison, saying amnesties granted anti-apartheid activists resulted from long negotiations, while the police amnesties were unilateral and unpublicized.

The police can still seek amnesty for all but the most heinous politically motivated crimes through a proposed Truth Commission, provided they make full disclosure.

De Klerk has received little publicity in recent months, and his outburst has been viewed as a bid to regain the spotlight.