WEDNESDAY'S meeting between President Frederik de Klerk and jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela has convinced many here that the new government is firmly commited to interrracial negotiations. But among anti-apartheid activists, the meeting has fueled growing fears that Mandela has his own political agenda and is preparing to make compromises unacceptable to the ANC.
The meeting with Mr. De Klerk followed former President Pieter Botha's ``icebreaker'' meeting with Mandela on July 5.
``De Klerk's meeting with Mandela is a completely different ballgame,'' said policy analyst Mark Swilling. ``De Klerk is clearly committed to negotiations in a way Botha never was.''
Anti-apartheid leaders are pressing De Klerk to lift the three-and-a-half-year-old state of emergency and remove restrictions on outlawed political groups as a prelude to negotiations. Since the Mandela-Botha meeting, De Klerk has removed obstacles by relaxing restrictions on protest marches and by releasing political prisoners.
The Mandela-De Klerk meeting came on the second day of a UN General Assembly debate of the ANC's plan for peaceful negotiations with Pretoria - the ``Harare declaration.'' Pretoria has said it would consider adoption of the ANC document a violation of the UN Charter.
An official statement by Justice Minister Kobie Coetzee said that there would be ``follow-up'' talks next year. ``Issues that were explored included ways and means to address current obstacles in the way of meaningful dialogue,'' Mr. Coetzee said, in the first official confirmation that the government is involved in pre-negotiations with Mandela. The Justice Ministry said Mandela approved the statement's wording.
This has raised expectations of Mandela's release early next year and has bolstered a growing perception that the government is sincere about wanting to include the ANC in its negotiation plans.
ANC veteran Walter Sisulu did not speak to the news media after his own meeting with Mandela on Tuesday, but he said he was surprised by De Klerk's meeting. ``It's news to me,'' he said.
Cyril Ramaphosa, a key anti-apartheid leader, was less generous. In an interview in Leadership magazine, he said ``Mandela is a member of the ANC, and his status is no different from the status of any other member of the ANC.'' He acknowledged that Mandela's leadership stature gave his views ``a lot of bearing.''
``Once he is released, and the processes start unfolding, he is one of those people who may have to be considered for a leadership position in the ANC.''
Mr. Ramaphosa's remarks were interpreted in political circles as confirming a growing uneasiness in anti-apartheid ranks that Mandela is playing a role that transcends the ANC's political boundaries.
``He has clearly got his own agenda,'' said a Western diplomat. ``He has become the kingmaker.''
The US State Department applauded the meeting in an official statement. The Johannesburg Star reported from its Washington Bureau yesterday that US Secretary of State James Baker III could visit South Africa early next year for talks with De Klerk and, possibly, Mandela.