AS some South African townships give signs of moving toward anarchy, two major initiatives are being taken this week to prevent a head-on confrontation on the streets between the South African government and anti-apartheid groups.
A diplomatic initiative involving several parties climaxes at the United Nations on Wednesday, where African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela is scheduled to address a Security Council meeting on South Africa requested by the 50-nation Organization of African Unity.
The Council session will also be addressed by South African Foreign Minister Roleof (Pik) Botha and four leaders of other black groups represented in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, the interracial negotiating forum that deadlocked in mid-May over the issue of majority rule.
In a surprise move, Mr. Mandela will also speak to the Democratic Convention in New York on the same day - a move which has been interpreted in some circles as a rebuke to President Bush for not applying sufficient pressure on President Frederik de Klerk to resolve
the South African impasse.
In a second initiative, leading white businessmen and black trade-union leaders are discussing a formula for turning a seven-day general strike scheduled to begin on Aug. 3 into joint business-trade union action to pressure politicians into resolving the political impasse.
The business leaders met Thursday with leaders of the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions, the major black union federation. If the two sides reach agreement, it could stave off what is potentially the most damaging strike in the country's history.
It is estimated the strike, which would last five working days and involve the occupation of city centers and factories, would cost the ailing South African economy more than $2 billion.
It would take place against the backdrop of a volatile political climate and several protracted national strikes - by media workers and health workers.
Meanwhile, church leaders such as Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu worry that the planned ANC protest campaign could unleash uncontrollable violence in the black townships that would spread into white areas and wreck two years of progress at the negotiating table.
A visit to Sebokeng township this weekend revealed explosive conditions between residents and police that could erupt in wide-scale violence reminiscent of the national uprising in the mid-1980s.
Peter Mokaba, the leader of the militant ANC Youth League, said this week that the ANC had re-launched its campaign to render the black townships ungovernable.
"We are going to return to the 1985 period with the establishment of street and block committees and people's courts," Mr. Mokaba told the Sunday Times of Johannesburg.
"Residents are going to take their townships away from the government and run them as they please."
The ANC scored a significant victory last week when UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali agreed to postpone a UN fact-finding mission headed by former United States Secretary of State Cyrus Vance until after the Security Council meeting.
Western diplomats say the UN mission - approved by Pretoria - had been discussed at a meeting between Mr. Boutros-Ghali and South African Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha in Abuja, Nigeria, two weeks ago.
ANC International Director Thabo Mbeki said Thursday that an ANC delegation had dissuaded the UN chief from sending the mission, saying it could preempt the Council meeting and deflect attention from the central issue of violence.
Western diplomats expressed surprise at the postponement, and indicated they would contest a draft Security Council resolution submitted by Zimbabwe which laid all blame for political violence on Pretoria and suggested the retention of remaining sanctions against South Africa.
At a meeting of the five permanent members of the Council last week, consensus was reached on pushing for a resolution which did not apportion blame for the violence, but focused on urging the parties to resume talks.
The ANC is hoping that a Council resolution will give international sanction to specific steps that government should take to end political violence and spell out details for international monitoring of the violence.
De Klerk has opened the door to international monitoring by appointing foreign observers on several government-appointed probes into violence as well as welcoming advice from international observers.