NEGOTIATORS from South Africa's major political parties meet here today to finalize a complex package designed to end white rule and pave the way for democratic elections for an interim government.
But sustained township violence, recent disclosures of widespread government corruption, and new evidence that active-duty military generals were involved in the assassination of anti-apartheid activists have set a tense backdrop for the crucial talks.
"President Frederik de Klerk enters the talks under a heavier cloud than at any time during his 2-1/2 years in office," said the Financial Mail in an editorial yesterday. "His failure to take decisive action to clean out the bureaucracy and the Cabinet means a legacy of corruption and mismanagement for his successor."
Political violence could weaken support for the African National Congress (ANC) and destroy the chances of a long-term political settlement. It is also undermining confidence in an ailing economy that appears to be entering a second year of recession.
Two of Mr. De Klerk's key negotiators have dropped off his team in recent weeks suffering from exhaustion, and ANC officials say levels of frustration within the organization are close to the breaking-point.
The ANC is also under pressure to publicize a report about alleged executions and torture in its former detention centers in neighboring states and to abandon its 30-year "armed struggle."
But ANC President Nelson Mandela has promised that the organization will halt its call for sanctions and support South Africa's admission to the United Nations and other international bodies once an administrative interim government is in place. One person, one vote
If the parties achieve consensus on the package it could lead to the installation of a multiracial transitional executive by August that will be mandated to prepare for one-person, one-vote elections for a constitution-making body and interim legislature some time next year.
But important details of the package - including the time frame and the decisionmaking procedures in future elected forums - remained unresolved on the eve of the crucial talks.
"If the negotiators at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa do not reach a comprehensive agreement on the way forward, the violence will escalate and the hope of foreign investment will evaporate," says a Western diplomat. "The stakes at CODESA-2 are enormously high."
CODESA-2 follows four months of intensive negotiations in five closed committees that have hammered out the details of a phased transition from centralized minority white rule to a decentralized majority system.
While four of the committees have reached consensus on their proposals, the fifth committee, whose task is to determine the form of the constitution-making body, was still meeting last night in an effort to break a deadlock over how decisions would be made in the elected body.
Individual accords have been reached on vital issues such as the structure of a preparatory phase of interim government, joint control of the security forces, and the reincorporation of nominally independent homelands. But the success of the two-day summit will depend on whether unresolved issues about a timetable for the first democratic elections and the principle of majority rule in an elected constitution-making body can be reached, diplomats say. 'Too important'
On the eve of the talks, Mr. Mandela said that reconciliation and the democratization of South Africa were "too important not to succeed," and he pledged that the ANC would not undermine any of the other parties.
"What we are not prepared to do is to give a minority of the population the right to veto decisions of the majority," Mandela told the Financial Times of London Monday.
A poll by the government-funded Human Sciences Research Council found this week that the ANC would win 45 percent support in a general election, the ruling National Party 25 percent, and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party 10 percent.
ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa told the Monitor that unless clarity was reached on the form of a constitution-making body the ANC would declare the negotiations a failure.
But government negotiators, in an apparent bid to limit the consequences of failing to reach a comprehensive agreement, insisted that outstanding issues could be resolved at a later stage.
"We've made remarkable progress," says National Party negotiator Dawie de Villiers. "What we have achieved up to now stands on its own." Concession on power
In a bid to reach a comprehensive agreement, the ANC has made important concessions on the issue of the decentralization of political power to semi-autonomous regions and on facilitating decisionmaking by consensus or a two-thirds majority in the transitional phase.
The ANC has also agreed to a new multiparty body that will draw up an interim constitution.
This has eased the opposition voiced by Mangosuthu Buthelezi of Inkatha. According to negotiators, the compromise on regional powers means that each South African would have both a national and a regional vote, thus ensuring that leaders like Chief Buthelezi, who depend on regional support, would be ensured a place in an elected assembly.