THE peace accord between South Africa's two major black adversaries has won widespread acclaim - tempered with caution that an awesome task remains to make it hold. The agreement raises hopes for an end to four years of internecine strife between supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party.
Political analysts say that it puts the leadership of both ANC deputy President Nelson Mandela and the Inkatha leader, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, on the line.
``Both leaders realized that they were losing control of their followers on the ground and needed to re-establish institutional control,'' says political analyst Mervyn Frost of Natal University.
``Until now it has been an open season on violence,'' he adds. ``From today there is no legitimacy for attacks by one side on the other.''
The essence of the accord is a mutual recognition that the two parties have a right to their own policies and strategies and that differences should be settled in an atmosphere of political tolerance.
The main differences between the two, in the past, were the question of armed struggle and the use international sanctions, the two main prongs of ANC strategy.
Inkatha has strongly opposed the use of violence and sanctions as a means of ending white rule, despite the fact that Chief Buthelezi is widely seen as exacerbating the violence in Natal and the black townships around Johannesburg.
In addition, the ANC leans toward socialist economic policies, while Ikatha is strongly pro-free enterprise.
``We are not saying we are uniform,'' Buthelezi said at a news conference after the meeting. ``But when we can synchronize strategy we will do so.''
``It was a triumph both for multiparty democracy and black unity,'' says Oscar Dhlomo, chairman of the independent Institute for Multiparty Democracy. ``When I talk about black unity, I do not mean black uniformity, but rather a unity of purpose.''
The accord bolsters local peace initiatives and opens top-level communication between two bitter political foes.
The meeting also secured the first joint Inkatha/ANC call on the government to ensure that the security forces act with impartiality and sensitivity.
Implicit in the call was a recognition that the security forces have a role to play in curbing criminal elements beyond the control of the political leaders.
``Buthelezi has shown that the costs of ignoring him were too high,'' says Mr. Frost. ``But it is ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela who emerged as the true statesman.''
The bitter four-year conflict, which has claimed at least 5,000 lives, has weakened the anti-apartheid struggle and strengthened reactionary elements bent on thwarting a negotiated settlement.
The chemistry of the meeting was as significant as the content of the written agreement, which calls for an immediate cessation of violence and provides for joint monitoring of the truce.
Mr. Mandela accorded Buthelezi the highest protocol compliment by referring to him as ``Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi,'' acknowledging his royal status among Zulus. Buthelezi subtly deferred to Mandela and referred to him as ``my brother.''
Despite the violence between their supporters, they greeted each other with a warm embrace and a spontaneous smile before the meeting.
Mandela sat through a lengthy speech by Buthelezi in which the Zulu leader provided an extensive list of bitter ANC attacks on Inkatha. At times he struck a confrontational tone.
In stark contrast, Mandela delivered a short statesmanlike speech in which he made clear he was prepared to forget the past and start a new relationship with Inkatha aimed at eradicating apartheid and creating a democratic order.
``We have not come here to apportion blame for the fact that it has taken so long before we managed to sit round a table of peace and reconciliation,'' Mandela told Buthelezi. ``We have no choice but to co-exist.''
The ANC leader stressed that their common opposition to apartheid should transcend any differences between them.
The peace accord is strong on sentiment but thin on specifics of how the two sides will ensure that their message filters through to a militant rank-and-file.
Little agreement was reached on contentious political issues, although Buthelezi hinted that Inkatha would attend an all-party conference later this year.
The parties remain far apart on the question of an ``interim government'' - to rule the country during a transition to black rule - and to an elected Constituent Assembly.
Inkatha has reservations about both ANC demands, but the gap between the groups narrowed by the end of the day.