JOHANNESBURG — THE assassination of militant African National Congress and Communist Party leader Chris Hani has strained the moderate leadership of ANC President Nelson Mandela but does not appear to have jeopardized a negotiated political settlement in the country.
"There have been signals for some time that Mr. Mandela does not exercise much authority with the kind of youth that throws stones and loots buildings," said political scientist Tom Lodge of the liberal Witwatersrand University. "My main worry is that the ANC will say things to please these people," he said. "That would be disastrous."
The death of Hani does not appear to have opened any new divisions in the ANC but merely to have exacerbated the divide that has emerged over the organization's decision in February to enter into a pre-election pact with the ruling National Party on a government of national unity.
Professor Lodge said the ANC had to come to terms with the fact that it would soon be a political party and could not hope to retain the support-base it had enjoyed as a liberation movement.
"There can be no turning back for the ANC at this stage," he said.
Some Western diplomats and political scientists believe Hani's tragic death could accelerate the negotiating process by acting as a warning to government that the patience of black South Africans is running out and that their anger simmers just beneath the surface.
"The ball is in the government's court," Lodge said. "There is no need to delay any longer in the setting of an election date."
Police shootings in Soweto during an almost total national work stoppage on Wednesday - which killed four and injured 246 - and widespread rioting and looting by black youths on the fringes of a crowd of demonstrators in Cape Town have been widely condemned by politicians on both sides of the racial divide.
President Frederick de Klerk has been criticized in the liberal English-language press for failing to read the level of black anger correctly and not responding with appropriate steps to acknowledge the feelings of the black community.
"It is not that De Klerk said anything wrong - rather that he could have said so much more," said an editorial in The Star, the country's biggest circulation daily. "His performance was muted and distant."
MANDELA'S call for restraint in accommodating the anger unleashed by Hani's assassination by a right-wing white gunman has only been partly heeded. The ANC president was booed by an angry crowd in Soweto Wednesday when he told them that the ruling National Party was among the groups that had sent messages of sympathy.
"I understand your anger," Mandela told the crowd. "There is no party that has been more responsible for your pain than the National Party but we don't want to think of the past. We want to think of the present and future."
He drew more boos and jeers when he said: "We don't like the National Party but I am prepared to work with De Klerk to build a new South Africa."
Although a strong advocate of negotiations, Hani's radical rhetoric and his background as a leader in the ANC's military wing and later in the South African Communist Party (SACP), made him a hero of radical black youths who might otherwise have strayed from the ANC/SACP fold. There is concern in ANC ranks that there is no one who can replace Hani in this role.
At Wednesday's commemorative rally in Soweto there was another warning sign for the ANC when militant Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) leader Clarence Makwethu received a rousing welcome from the crowd.
The black youths on the fringes of the ANC tilt toward the pro-black PAC, which has urged the ANC to withdraw from negotiations with the government.
But with the exception of ultra-radical Harry Gwala, chairman of the ANC's Natal Midlands branch, there has been no suggestion from within ANC ranks of linking Hani's death to the negotiating process.
"I think it is another sign that the negotiating process now has a life of its own," a Western diplomat says.
"But the anger unleashed by Hani's death shows that the process has a limited time-frame and may not be able to accommodate more delays."