RIVAL anti-apartheid groups are exploring the basis for a broad coalition to bolster their leverage in negotiations with the ruling National Party. The initiative could gain momentum next week when two of the main players - the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC, the militant offshoot of the African National Congress) and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party - hold strategy conferences in Durban.
The ANC also gathers Dec. 16 in Johannesburg for a conference at which the unity question will be high on the agenda. ANC President Oliver Tambo, an advocate of pragmatic alliance, is due to arrive in the country Dec. 13.
The immediate goal of a black coalition would be to reduce political violence that has left more than 1,000 people dead in four months. The killing has retarded negotiations, creating inter-tribal tensions. An average of 10 people a day are dying in a power struggle between Inkatha and the ANC, violence apparently fanned by elements of the security forces.
Another goal of a black coalition would be to promote consensus on a new constitution and mechanisms for a transition.
``We must form alliances with those not yet ready to belong to the same [ANC] structures as us,'' said Mr. Tambo in a recent speech, which was read on his behalf to an ANC Youth League meeting in Soweto.
Hopes of progress towards black unity were raised at a recent meeting of an African trade grouping, the Preferential Trade Area (PTA), in Swaziland last month attended by ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela. PAC Vice President Clarence Makwethu said at the meeting that the PAC conference this week would decide whether it would join a united front with the ANC. The ANC responded positively to the suggestion.
New possibility for unity
``We feel that to move forward we should, if we have the same principles, work together in a broad front for a common goal,'' says ANC spokesperson Gill Marcus. ``Realistically - given the latest developments - this is becoming a possibility.''
The ANC and Inkatha appear to be vying for PAC as an alliance partner. In the past, the country's white rulers have succeeded in nurturing ethnic and political divisions among rival black groups. But progress toward a wider unity among blacks could dramatically shift the balance of power. The first visible steps toward unity where taken at a landmark conference here last Thursday convened by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has emerged as a key mediator between the rival black groups.
The meeting - attended by 37 delegates from 11 delegations - represented all the major black groupings except Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. Chief Buthelezi's decision to shun the talks indicates the steep road to black unity.
But political analysts said it was significant that the other black leaders did not oppose Buthelezi's presence.
``Four years ago they wouldn't have cared about Buthelezi's absence,'' says independent analyst Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert. ``Now they lament the fact that he wasn't with them.''
Mr. Mandela, who was a key participant at the meeting, has been prevented from meeting with Buthelezi by resistant factions within the ANC rank-and-file. But it is thought a meeting could still take place before the end of the year.
In the past, rival anti-apartheid groups have been polarized by sharp differences of strategy over how to end white rule. The ANC has favored a combination of force, mass mobilization and international isolation. Inkatha rejects both ``armed struggle'' - which the ANC has now suspended - and economic sanctions, opting for diplomacy.
The PAC, on the other hand, criticizes the ANC for entering talks-about-talks before blacks have developed the necessary political leverage. Its slogan is: One settler, one bullet.
Leaders of six of 10 tribal homelands present at the meeting had in the past advocated some collaboration with Pretoria to achieve political independence. But all four relatively independent homelands now agree re-incorporation of their territories into South Africa should be decided by referenda. Most of the semi-autonomous black states have also aligned themselves, to some degree, with the ANC.
``The fact that we met was surprising,'' said Archbishop Tutu. ``That we continued to talk without walking out was remarkable, and even more remarkable that we achieved a joint statement.''
The black leaders, in a historic joint statement, called for peace, discipline, and creation of a ``culture of tolerance.''