THE return of African National Congress Deputy President Nelson Mandela on Wednesday from a triumphant world tour has boosted hopes that the flagging negotiating process - challenged by mounting civil unrest - will soon be revived. Mr. Mandela returned to widespread expectations that his personal stature - and the relationship he has developed with South African President Frederik de Klerk - will help restore momentum established in ANC-government talks 10 weeks ago.
During Mandela's trip abroad, there has been a sharp escalation in political violence and industrial and civil unrest. Right-wing violence, once confined to white anti-apartheid targets, has begun to target black civilians. Black education is in a state of near-anarchy, and urban squatters threaten nationwide protest.
There is a general belief among moderates that Mandela's return will advance the negotiating process. But some analysts say that as the bargaining process unfolds, major players have less rather than more control of the result.
``Mandela is already part of a process he cannot control,'' says Mark Swilling of the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg.
ANC officials say Mandela was successful in persuading the world of the correctness of the ANC's ``armed struggle'' and its call for maintaining economic sanctions against South Africa. Michael Clough, senior fellow for Africa at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, says Mandela has achieved the five objectives he appeared to have set for himself:
Preventing moves to lift sanctions.
Enhancing the ANC's credibility.
Bolstering his position relative to Mr. De Klerk's.
Reassuring investors of the potential of post-apartheid South Africa.
In a press conference at the airport Wednesday, Mandela said the ANC is ready to consider ``suspending'' hostilities once the government cleared remaining obstacles to talks. These include the release of political prisoners and the return of some 20,000 political exiles.
Mandela also held out the prospect of advocating the lifting of sanctions earlier than envisaged in the ANC's formal negotiating document, the Harare Declaration. Mandela said talks were creating ``an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence'' that created new possibilities. ``It may be possible to examine the review of sanctions even before a new constitution actually operates.''
Mandela said he would seek a meeting with De Klerk ``in the next few days.'' He said: ``We made progress in our first meeting, and I hope that our second meeting will register the same progress.''