THE spiral of violence in South Africa's black townships is threatening to spin further out of control despite efforts by political leaders to end the conflict and proceed with negotiations for a nonracial democracy. Two days after President Frederik de Klerk and African National Congress Deputy President Nelson Mandela reached a tentative accord on steps to end the violence, Zulu hostel-dwellers launched a attack early Sunday against an isolated squatter camp on the outskirts of this crowded township west of Johannesburg, killing 27 people and injuring more than 50.
Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok warned Sunday that if other efforts to end violence failed, the government could again be forced to resort to declaring a nationwide emergency.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu Monday appealed to leaders of the government, the ANC, and the Inkatha Freedom Party to redouble efforts to find solutions that would avert a civil war. He warned that suspension of political negotiations would lead to further violence.
ANC officials disclosed over the weekend that Mr. Mandela and Mr. De Klerk had reached tentative agreement on De Klerk's commitment to ensure impartial policing and on the phasing out of men-only hostels and their conversion into family accommodation.
But Mandela gave De Klerk seven days to resolve a dispute over the inclusion of ceremonial spears and axes in the definition of dangerous weapons the government has agreed to outlaw.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi has protested any move to deprive Zulus of their ``cultural weapons,'' but ANC officials insist that Inkatha supporters must be prevented from carrying such weapons in the streets of violence-wracked black townships.
Mandela and De Klerk have also failed to agree on the format of an all-party conference on violence that the government has called for May 24 and 25.
The ANC's national executive is to meet Friday to discuss progress made during the talks and decide whether to call off its threat to suspend talks.
But a Law and Order Ministry spokesman warned in an interview that the issue of ``cultural weapons'' was highly sensitive and could spar further violence.
``There is a very real danger that the disarming of Zulus will be seen as a insult to the whole Zulu nation and could unleash violence on an unprecedented scale,'' said Law and Order Ministry spokesman Captain Craig Kotze.
Two important events in the past four days could have a bearing on the outcome of the talks.
The confrontation Saturday between white-led security forces and right-wing white farmers trying to attack a rural black settlement, in which at least two of the farmers were shot, has been seen by black South Africans as the first practical proof of De Klerk's stated commitment to impartial policing.
``There is no doubt that this is a point in De Klerk's favor,'' said an ANC official.
Speaking at a by-election meeting in the Orange Free State district of Lady Brand Monday night, De Klerk brushed aside right-wing threats and defended the police action. He insisted that the government would not tolerate attempts by any section of the population to take the law into its own hands.
In a surprise move Monday, the ANC issued an unprecedented statement extending a hand of friendship to the security forces, calling on them to join the initiative to achieve a peaceful political settlement.
``Let us look forward to the future and create a better future for all our people,'' the ANC told the security forces, ensuring them that they were not ``enemies of the people.''
The Zulu attack on Swanieville squatter camp, however, has tended to inflame emotions in the townships. ANC officials say it will increase the pressure on De Klerk to confront Chief Buthelezi and insist that he cooperate with efforts to disarm township residents.
``De Klerk cannot win if he sides with Buthelezi,'' says analyst Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, head of the pro-democracy Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa. ``The international community would not back an equivocation on the issue of violence.''
The massacre at the Swanieville squatter appears to have been a turning-point in the political war-of-words over violence. Eye-witness accounts by residents paraded by officials of the ANC's Kagiso branch, implicated the police in the attack. Two eye-witnesses - Martha Boikanyo and Vezi Mzimkulu - spoke of seeing hooded white men in green overalls shooting at the residents, and another said she had seen Zulus getting out of police vehicles.
Police spokesman Major Ray Harrald denied any police connivance in the attack and said six men had been arrested. Police admitted that about six vehicles, after learning of the attack, had accompanied the Zulus back to the hostel to avoid further violence.
Suzanne Vos, a spokesman for Buthelezi, said the hostel-dwellers were acting in response to the kidnapping of two hostel-dwellers. They had failed to negotiate the return of their kidnapped colleagues, she said.
Since early this month ,some 200 people have died in sustained conflict, which is dominated by attacks by large bands of Zulu-speaking Inkatha supporters from men-only hostels against township residents and mainly Xhosa-speaking squatter communities loyal to the ANC.