BARGAINING has begun in earnest here over the phased transition of power, with President Frederik de Klerk's landslide referendum victory giving his negotiators a new edge at the table.
"They are playing rough," says a key adviser to the African National Congress (ANC) negotiating team in the working group dealing with the mechanism for drawing up a new constitution.
"Since the referendum, the government negotiators are being far more threatening and have clearly translated their mandate from white voters as a signal to take their gloves off," the ANC adviser told the Monitor on condition of anonymity.
The ANC was expected today to present detailed proposals on the composition and functioning of a Constituent Assembly, which would draw up the new constitution and also serve as an interim legislature.
While senior ANC officials continue to express optimism about a deal on a phased transition to majority rule, Western diplomats and legal advisers to the negotiating teams say a final agreement probably will not be reached before the end of the year.
"I think there is going to have to be a third plenary session of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa [CODESA] before we reach agreement," an ANC adviser says.
The expectation that a CODESA II plenary session would be held before the end of April is now fading, and the prospect of a CODESA III toward the end of the year is considered a likelihood by some ANC negotiators.
The new tough mood was evident at sessions last week where the government first proposed that transitional councils should have only advisory powers during a first phase of administrative interim government. Later, it backed down and conceded the councils would have statutory powers.
Senior National Party officials warned that there could be no progress towards an interim government until political violence subsided and the ANC abandoned its "armed struggle" inside the country.
But both ANC and government negotiators told the Monitor a broad understanding had been reached that the ANC would agree to subject its arms caches to monitoring in return for joint control of the South African Defense Force.
"The basis of the tradeoff is that the ANC will agree to control of its arms caches inside the country," but will not dismantle its military wing at this stage, says Jakki Cilliers, director of the independent Institute of Defense Politics.
He says the ANC would risk losing a large part of its constituency if it renounced the largely symbolic armed struggle now.
"But the ANC will also end its call for continued financial and investment sanctions," says Mr. Cilliers, a former military officer.
"In exchange, the government will agree to multiparty or independent control of the security forces and proceed towards an interim government which will have executive powers."
Under this arrangement, ANC soldiers would remain in camps outside the country until a new constitution was finalized and the composition of a new national army was agreed to. At this point, the symbolic armed struggle would be formally renounced.
The ANC official says the row about the military wing and advisory powers for the councils concealed some much tougher battles ahead.
These include the nature and composition of the elected Constituent Assembly to draw up a constitution. The government is proposing a two-chamber body, while the ANC insists on a single elected body.
"We will not be trapped into an open-ended interim government," the ANC adviser says. "There is no way the ANC will agree to an administrative interim government phase until the final package is worked out and a time-frame for majority rule agreed to." The ANC adviser said there could also be a fight about the transfer of presidential powers in the administrative interim phase.
"We are insisting that the powers of the presidency must be subsumed by the interim government council. Once that principle is established, we could talk about De Klerk being the chairman."
The ANC has accepted the principle of consensus decisionmaking during the second phase of the transition where an elected interim government would rule while the Constituent Assembly draws up a new constitution and passes legislation.
Under the ANC proposals expected today, the assembly would make decisions on the basis of a two-thirds majority and parties would have to achieve between 3 and 5 percent of the vote in an election to gain representation in the assembly. The assembly would elect an interim executive, which would rule on the basis of consensus.
The government proposals published last Monday at CODESA insisted that the transitional councils on the security forces could not be constituted until the ANC had agreed to the dismantling of its military wing inside the country.
The first phase of the deal will establish six transitional councils, giving the major black political parties an equal say over key areas of government including elections, regional government, local government, finance and budgets, the military and the police.
From these six councils - consisting of seven members each drawn from parties represented at CODESA - an over-arching Joint Transitional Council will be chosen to function as a kind of super-Cabinet.
The decisive "yes" vote in the referendum has also accelerated a political realignment and shifted the balance towards negotiations.
In the wake of the referendum result, the right-wing Conservative Party - whose support was shown to be less than 5 percent of the total population - has been locked in a series of meetings to decide at what point to become involved in the negotiating process.