S. Africans Reach a Landmark Pact Giving Blacks a Vote for First Time
Plan for transition to democracy includes bill of rights, coalition rule
AFTER three years of turbulent negotiations and political violence, leaders of 21 South African parties are to meet on Nov. 17 to finalize a democracy settlement that will place the country irrevocably on the road to majority rule.Skip to next paragraph
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The watershed accord, reached almost four years after President Frederik de Klerk freed African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela, will extend the vote to the country's black majority for the first time in South Africa's 340-year history.
The historic settlement will formally end a disastrous 45-year era of apartheid that caused tens of thousands of deaths, shattered communities and families, and turned the country into an international pariah.
Mr. De Klerk and Mr. Mandela met Nov. 16 to nail down final agreement on key issues such as the shape of the future defense and police forces, the formula for decisionmaking in the Cabinet, deadlock-breaking mechanisms for a constitutional assembly, and a formula for democracy at the local level.
De Klerk and Mandela were accompanied by chief ANC negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa and government negotiator Roelf Meyer - the two men credited with sustaining optimism that an agreement could be reached throughout two years of formal talks.
``This is a historic day,'' De Klerk told the Monitor after congratulating the government's negotiating team Nov. 16. ``A new constitution has been born that can ensure a peaceful transition that will lay the foundation for a proper democracy. There has been a process of give and take, and we have made concessions. But all the fundamentals are there,'' he said.
``It is an astonishing achievement which will release a sustained wave of positive energy,'' says a Western diplomat close to the talks.
The country's first democratic ballot, scheduled for April 1994, will establish a Transitional Government of National Unity with a five-year life span. Parties that win more than 5 percent of the total vote will be included in the Transitional Government of National Unity. A 400-member national assembly will act as a constitutional assembly to drawn up the final constitution by April 1999.
The president will be chosen by the majority party and will appoint a Cabinet that must include, on a proportional basis, representatives of all parties that win more than 5 percent of the total vote.
An elaborate web of checks and balances will restrain the executive power and effectively transfer sovereignty from parliament - as was the case in the old British-style system - to the constitution, as is the case in the United States.
``This is a very significant break with the parliamentary tradition,'' says political scientist David Welsh of the University of Cape Town.
Recent opinion polls indicate the ANC is likely to win between 55 and 60 percent of the vote, and that Mandela will be the first president of post-apartheid South Africa. If the National Party should come in second, as most polls now suggest, De Klerk would become second deputy president.
The deal was reached against the backdrop of falling levels of violence and the first signs that the economy is emerging from a protracted recession.