THE African National Congress and the South African government are poised to hold historic talks tomorrow as white extremists and black radicals step up the pressure to block a negotiated end to four decades of apartheid. ``The government needs to take every possible step to ensure that no one in its ranks is cooperating with those who want to derail peaceful negotiations,'' says Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The run-up to this week's historic talks has been marked by an escalation of threats by white extremist leaders. They claim to have launched an armed counterrebellion to thwart what they see as the the advent of black rule.
On the eve of the first round of talks, Anglican priest Michael Lapsley - who officiated at ANC ceremonies in neighboring Zimbabwe - had both his hands blown off in a parcel bomb attack.
On the left of the political spectrum, radical black leaders have accused the ANC of ``arrogance'' and of ``selling out'' the black cause by agreeing to negotiate with the white leaders of the ruling National Party.
``Slaves have nothing to gain from negotiating with their masters,'' said Zeph Mothopeng, president of the ANC's rival Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).
Two weeks ago, President Frederik de Klerk pledged that all South Africans would have an equal vote and conditionally endorsed a common voters' role - providing there were the necessary checks safeguarding the interests of the white minority.
He said he would be going to the negotiating table to fight for a system based on free enterprise and property rights.
But on Sunday, at an open-air ANC rally near Cape Town, South African Communist Party (SACP) leader Joe Slovo warned that the constituency of the ANC-SACP alliance was restive.
``We are asked to have patience and remember that President Frederik de Klerk has a constituency he cannot ignore,'' said Mr. Slovo. ``Well, [Nelson] Mandela also has a constituency which has been suffering from the shock of race rule for 300 years and it cannot wait much longer for a new life.''
Slovo drew the biggest cheers of the day when he vowed that the ANC would not stop short of winning full majority rule and a redistribution of land and wealth for the black majority.
The modest crowd of about 20,000 supporters - who braved a cold wind and heavy skies to attend Sunday's rally - gave Slovo a warm reception, waving the red SACP flag throughout his speech. ``If we see the real prospect of achieving democracy through negotiations, we will walk through the door.... But - short of this - we will have to break the door down,'' said Slovo.
The ANC negotiating team, headed by Nelson Mandela, includes representatives from the country's four major racial groups as well as two women. The nine-strong government team, made up of senior white officials, all of whom are men, will be headed by Mr. De Klerk.
The purpose of the talks is to remove remaining obstacles to formal negotiations as spelled out in the ANC's negotiating plan.
Since De Klerk lifted restrictions on anti-apartheid groups on Feb. 2, there has been a dramatic escalation in political violence, much of it between rival black groups. Mr. Mandela's stature as a leader has been challenged by his inability to curb the violence.
The issue of finding a formula to end the violence is expected to dominate this week's talks. Participants will also seek a formula for the release of political prisoners and the return of ANC exiles.
De Klerk last week submitted laws in Parliament allowing for temporary and permanent amnesty for exiles on a selective basis. But government officials say a cease-fire must first be negotiated.
The government claims that the ANC's refusal to renounce violence and suspend its armed struggle feeds the conflict. The ANC demands that the government curb excessive police action, abolish repressive security laws, and lift a nationwide emergency.
``With this week's meeting both the National Party and the ANC are entering the most perilous phases of their respective histories,'' said Hermann Giliomee, an historian from the University of Cape Town.
Constitutional and Development Minister Gerrit Viljoen said in Washington last week that he hoped formal negotiations would begin this year and that a new constitution could be achieved within two years.