POLITICAL terrorism and sabotage by white right-wing extremists and black radicals is likely to escalate until a democratic vote is held in South Africa, political scientists say.
"If an election is not held soon, we are going to see a massive increase in violent resistance, which is going to be difficult to control," says Lloyd Vogelman, director of the Project for the Study of Violence at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.
Mr. Vogelman says that the longer an election is delayed, the more time the right-wing will have to organize itself into a coherent force.
He adds that a prolonged period without a legitimate and accountable government would also cause problems within the African National Congress (ANC), spur-ring some of its more radical elements to resort to violent resistance.
A recent wave of bombings and terrorist attacks by the white right-wing and the killing of policemen by the military wing of the pro-black Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) - which has refused to suspend its armed struggle until elections for a constituent assembly - have raised concerns about the success of the national convention launched last month to negotiate a new constitution.
At least a dozen right-wing attacks have targeted multiracial schools, trade-union offices, post offices, courts of law, and tax offices since Dec. 16 - mainly in Transvaal province.
Police this week arrested three whites from the Boer Commando (Boerekommando), the military arm of the Boerestaat Party, a right-wing splinter group.
Vogelman says attacks on policemen by the PAC's Azanian Peoples Liberation Army should be seen as "armed propaganda" rather than a sustained resistance at this stage. Five policemen were killed in the past month.
"But the attacks from the ultra-right are far more serious," he says. "They have both the capacity and the opportunity in the current climate of instability, and they have access to both arms and information."
The upsurge of terrorism and sabotage - though no one has been killed so far in the wave of right-wing bombings - is distinct from ongoing political violence between rival black groups.
Vogelman says that the white right-wing has the advantage of being able to draw on highly trained people and still enjoys widespread sympathy within elements of the establishment.
The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) - a forum representing 18 political parties and the government - decided at its first meeting Dec. 20 and 21 to establish working committees to draft proposals for an interim government, an elected Constituent Assembly, and a set of constitutional principles.
The committees will start work on Feb. 6, and CODESA is expected to hold its second session early in March. Participants include the National Party, ANC, and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.
The left-wing Azanian Peoples Organization (Azapo), the PAC, and the right-wing Conservative Party are boycotting the talks. An estimated 30 to 40 white extremist groups are not represented.
"As the political process moves toward interim government and an election, groups outside the convention will try to subvert it through violence," Vogelman says. He predicts that armed right-wing resistance will continue for at least two years even if negotiations are successful.
The ANC demands a place in an interim government - lasting no more than 18 months - to oversee elections for a Constituent Assembly, which would then draw up a new constitution.
"There cannot be any point in setting up an interim government if the principle of a democratically elected constitution-making body has not been accepted," said the ANC executive committee in a statement marking its 80th year.
"If democracy is to stand a chance in South Africa, there must be an election that involves everyone, and the government must be prepared to deal with the inevitable attack from the white right," says Andre du Toit, a professor of political studies at Cape Town University.
The PAC and Azapo want to move directly to the elected Constituent Assembly and suspect that the ANC is prepared to compromise on the timing and composition of the constitution-making body.
President Frederik de Klerk indicated for the first time at last month's CODESA meeting that he is prepared to negotiate a transitional government and then hold elections for an interim arrangement lasting between 10 and 15 years.
ANC President Nelson Mandela has acknowledged progress in Mr. de Klerk's position, but warned that De Klerk's strategy to draw out the transition amounts to a "trick."
Mr. Mandela indicated in a recent interview with the Johannesburg Sunday Star that once the principle of majority rule had been agreed to, he would be prepared to discuss special guarantees for whites and other minorities for a limited duration.
"The only compromise one could think of is something like what happened in Zimbabwe, where we are able to say we will guarantee that so many seats will be held by whites," Mandela said.