THERE are two inevitabilities in South Africa. First, power will ultimately pass from the white minority (currently 5 million) to the black majority (currently 28 million).
Second, the transition will be fraught at times with problems and setbacks.
A troubling manifestation of those problems is the current breakdown of constitutional negotiations between the white government and the main black opposition group, the African National Congress (ANC).
This is a serious impediment to progress. South Africa's principal black and white leaders - Nelson Mandela and President Frederik W. de Klerk - have made extraordinary gains in preparing both blacks and whites for drastic change without interracial bloodshed. That process is, for the moment, at a standstill.
But the situation is not hopeless. The two men have exhibited great resolution in their pursuit of multi-racial concord in South Africa. Despite political imprisonment for 28 years, Mr. Mandela is not an embittered man. Meanwhile Mr. De Klerk has turned white politics upside down by discarding apartheid. The two need each other. They know that unless they negotiate the overturning of the existing power structure by peaceful means, the alternative is overturning it by violence.
With the stakes so high, it is not surprising that tensions and rivalries have surfaced among those jostling for power. The ANC has had a particularly difficult time in making the transition from a longtime underground organization to an orthodox political party.
The ANC is riven by extremist and more moderate factions, which Mandela has had problems balancing. Amidst all this, Mandela has been politically wounded by the conviction of his ambitious and aggressive wife, Winnie, on charges related to the assault on young blacks in her home.
A clarification of the leadership lineup, and thus of ANC policy, must probably await an upcoming party conference scheduled for July. Lobbying is intense for the elections that will determine the outcome.
Moreover, the ANC is challenged by another political party, the Inkatha movement of South Africa's Zulus. The Zulus, one of South Africa's most warlike black tribes in earlier days, have been clashing violently with ANC supporters, many of whom are drawn from the Xhosa tribe. The ANC and Inkatha are maneuvering for power in whatever structure is to succeed exclusive white rule. Their tactics have been different; while the ANC has been implacably opposed to the white government, Zulu leader Mangosuthu Bu t
hulezi has sought to work alongside it and around it.
The ANC's boycott of constitutional talks with the white government stems from its troubles with the Zulus. The ANC has submitted demands to the government that it says must be met to end the bloody fighting between ANC and Inkatha supporters. More than 800 blacks have died so far this year in the fighting.
ANC members charge that the white government's security forces have favored the Inkatha party, and aided its members in attacks upon the ANC. Particularly controversial has been the exclusion of the Zulus from a ban on weapon-carrying. While the government has cracked down on weapons in general, the Zulus have been allowed to retain their short stabbing spears, or assegais, along with knobkerries (clubs with heavy round balls atop them) and rawhide shields. These are the traditional weapons with which Z u
lus have met their enemies over the centuries.
The ANC clearly wants to be at its strongest when it negotiates with the government. Inkatha would just as obviously prefer a weakened ANC. Some of the white government's security forces may indeed be encouraging the tribal animosity that has become murderous.
These are some of the problems and passions, unworthy but not totally surprising, besetting South Africa as it weaves its way through momentous upheaval.