Temporary Slowdown in S. Africa

SOUTH Africans have come a long way since the Conference for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) was organized last December. Delegates to the conference, representing all racial and ethnic groups, have reached agreement on such difficult issues as future control over the security forces and reincorporation of black "homelands."

But the National Party government and the African National Congress, the dominant players, part ways on the size of the majority needed to approve parts of a new constitution, particularly those parts related to regional representation. The government is holding out for 75 percent of the constituent assembly; the ANC thinks that could amount to a "white veto," but has moved from two-thirds to 70 percent. The five-point difference was recently enough to deadlock CODESA's second full session.

Why the hang-up over this detail? Because what lies behind the percentages are different conceptions of where power will reside in a future government. President Frederik de Klerk sees regional representation as a guarantee that minority voices (primarily white) will be heard. He wants some assurance that the ANC won't simply squelch white interests with its overwhelming popular support.

Nelson Mandela and the ANC, on the other hand, suspect the government is in fact trying to insert a veto into the process. De Klerk's delegates had been willing to move to 70 percent only if the deal included setting up a second constitution-approving body whose representation would be based on regions, not popular vote. The ANC asserts the government is trying to hang on to white rule, which De Klerk hotly denies.

This standoff shouldn't last. Both sides now have a big investment in the negotiating process and have moved quickly to the present juncture. The ANC understandably wants to move rapidly toward full participation in government; De Klerk and his colleagues might like to go slower, but the country's continuing violence and recent revelations of corruption within the white government underscore the need to complete CODESA's work.

The conference will reconvene before the end of June. That session should wrap up the preliminaries and launch South Africa's final transition to democracy.

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