In S. Africa: Close, Yet Far

POLITICAL tensions in South Africa are again rising in the wake of deadlocked talks between the government and the African National Congress. The ANC has threatened massive strikes to protest what it sees as the white-led government's determination to hold on to power.

Some worry that the negotiating process known as CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) could break down altogether.

Working against that, however, is the substantial progress already made. Additionally, neither side can avoid making compromises. Black and white delegates have agreed on the framework of a post-apartheid society. They now have to hammer out the final, tough compromises - something that still could take place later this month, as planned - and begin implementing transitional arrangements by the end of the year.

At what were meant to be decisive meetings in May, the working groups of CODESA reported a number of significant advances in mutual understanding. But they deadlocked on three important, even fundamental questions.

By what vote percentages should the to-be-elected Constituent Assembly approve critical clauses in the post-apartheid constitution? The ruling white National Party proposed an 80 percent threshold, and then reduced its demands to 75 percent. The ANC, the most widely representative of the many black groups at CODESA, proposed 66.7 percent.

An agreement to accept the adoption of most clauses by 70 percent and critical clauses, especially the proposed Bill of Rights, by 75 percent, was almost ready in May and may still be sanctioned by the parties in time for decisive meetings this month.

Blacks and whites still disagree on the powers of, and even the need for an upper parliamentary house, or Senate. The National Party has long viewed an upper house as the repository of a minority veto, a major safeguard for whites in a black-run South Africa. (The lower house of Parliament is expected to be elected on proportional representation, and to produce a decisive black, probably ANC, majority.)

The National Party plan is for senators to be elected indirectly from 10 regions by the separately elected councils of those regions. The ANC has long favored a unitary state based on South Africa's existing four provinces.

However, some of the other black delegations, especially those from the Inkatha Freedom Party of the KwaZulu homeland, and from several of the nine other homelands, will vote for regionalization. Some ethnic groups, like the Zulu, also fear future centralization under the Xhosa-dominated ANC.

THE National Party has meanwhile retreated from its long-held conviction that only a constitution with a built-in white veto would work. It once viewed the regions, too, as repositories of group rights and group control over education and health. But the imperative of creating a workable post-apartheid society in the end encouraged the party's leadership to seek security through less obvious, and less certain, arrangements.

The delegates have accepted the ANC's notion that the new constitution should be written by a proportionally elected constituent assembly and that there should be a transitional executive group composed of blacks and whites. Both the assembly and the new executive will function alongside, and will presumably assume authority from the existing State President, white cabinet, and three-chamber parliament.

There is an agreement over the need for a bill of rights, an independent judiciary, an independent broadcasting and television authority, respect for private property, and, overall, that South Africa should become a model democracy.

With little controversy, the delegates to CODESA have already agreed to end the local "independence" of the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and the Ciskei, four homelands, and to fold them back into South Africa. The separate existence of the other six homelands will also cease.

Some critical questions remain: The precise form of the election, and its dates, are still to be determined. So are such crucial concerns as the role of the existing, largely white and predominantly Afrikaans-speaking civil service during both the transitional period and the implementation phase to follow, and control over the police and the military.

To whom will the defense force report? Given recent disclosures in court and elsewhere about the duplicity of the white police and the Army, how will the neutrality, which blacks demand, of these decisive forces be guaranteed? Equally, whites want to be sure that police and soldiers uphold the constitution, even under black rule. How will that result be ensured?

Fortunately, for South Africa and Africa, there has been serious give and take, and a determination to move ahead despite a number of uncertainties.

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