SOUTH Africa's political transition is taking shape as the government and African National Congress move closer to compromise on a phased transfer of political power.
If the emerging compromise succeeds, it could lead to rule by a coalition of the ruling National Party and the ANC by early next year. The transitional government would amount to black majority rule, but guarantees for whites would ensure consensus decisionmaking at all levels until interim leaders agree these can fall away.
National Party (NP) proposals envisage a shared presidency between the three main players - NP, ANC, and Inkatha Freedom Party - with decisions made on a consensus basis between them.
With the threat of growing right-wing resistance, President Frederik de Klerk appears to be preparing a nervous white constituency for further concessions in order to enlist the ANC in an anti-right coalition.
"A lot can be done to assist De Klerk within the negotiating process," said ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa at a briefing.
Mr. De Klerk's efforts to draw the right-wing Conservative Party (CP) to the negotiating table have failed so far - but divisions remain over whether the party should join talks to negotiate the boundaries of a white homeland. Crucial February vote
"There is no doubt that both De Klerk's support and authority are waning and he must move swiftly if he is to enlist black support for his showdown with the right," a Western diplomat says.
De Klerk must also contend with escalating violence by radical groups, soaring crime rates, and increasing economic hardship resulting from prolonged drought and deepening recession.
A crucial indicator will be the outcome of the Feb. 19 election in the symbolic Transvaal voting district of Potchefstroom - a university and farming town where De Klerk studied. De Klerk has conceded that Potchefstroom will be a fair test of white opinion, but his senior officials are already discounting its significance should conservatives win there.
De Klerk's opponents - on both his left and right flanks - agree that if the Conservatives win it will be difficult to refute the CP's claim that it represents the majority of whites.
This sort of result would undermine De Klerk's position at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) unless it persuades black leaders to actively campaign alongside him for a "yes" vote in a national referendum on transition arrangements.
The Conservative Party, which demands the right to "self-determination" in an as yet unspecified homeland, presents the most serious threat to De Klerk's plans. Ascendancy of ANC
If De Klerk fails to win a white majority in the referendum, he would likely be forced to concede he no longer represents most whites, and either to seek black support to push changes through, or to agree to another white election under the present constitution - something he has said will not happen. This would probably lead to a CP victory followed by a black counter-rebellion and prolonged civil unrest, conflict, and chaos, political analysts say.
The ascendancy of the ANC in CODESA working groups was confirmed in Monitor interviews this week with officials speaking on condition of anonymity. De Klerk has conceded the principle of the ANC's fundamental demands for an interim government and an elected body to draw up a democratic constitution.
The two parties now agree that details of the transition and the method of drawing up the constitution should be negotiated at CODESA. The ANC wants an administrative interim government in which it would have joint control over elections, state-run broadcasting, the security forces, and financial matters. The interim government would then oversee one-person, one-vote elections for a constituent assembly whose sole purpose would be to draw up the new constitution.
The government wants to negotiate an interim constitution within CODESA - a consensus body in which equally weighted delegations give separate government and National Party representatives a clear advantage over the ANC. The interim constitution would then be refined in an elected transitional government of national unity (TGNU) with an elected interim parliament.
This, according to government officials, would help lock the ANC into a process of responsibility and accountability. The duration of the TGNU (the ANC wants a two-year limit, the government has hinted at five to 10 years) would then be determined by the TGNU leaders. The consensus principle would be ensured by proportional representation in the executive branch of the transition government and a regionally elected upper house to give the NP a veto on decision-making.
This would be achieved by giving all regions equal weighting - regardless of their size - and giving all political parties who achieve a specified minimum of votes an equal number of seats.
The ANC has rejected this formula for white protection but ANC President Nelson Mandela has repeatedly said that some special protection for whites will have to be considered during the transitional period. According to the present timetable, the CODESA could reach a transition package by April or August. Duration of interim
The ANC has responded to De Klerk's proposals in a low-key way, acknowledging progress but reiterating its preference for an elected constituent assembly and short-lived administrative interim government with limited jurisdiction. Chief differences between the government and the ANC are the duration of the interim and how much of the constitution will be drawn up by CODESA and how much by an elected body.
De Klerk's formula for an elected transitional government - based on the National Party's consensus-oriented constitutional proposals - is an attempt to retain influence during the transition.
"I don't think this interim parliament of De Klerk's will fly," says liberal Democratic Party leader Zach de Beer, who until recently chaired the CODESA steering committee. "I think we shall end up ... with an interim government which will be a different kind of executive machine but uses the present legislature to pass whatever laws are necessary during the interim period."