THE slaughter of at least 30 unarmed South African demonstrators by Ciskeian troops has shocked the international community into putting pressure on the major parties to return to talks.
The country's future now seems to depend on a "make-or-break" summit on violence between the ruling National Party and the African National Congress (ANC). Although both sides have agreed to such a summit, no date has yet been set for the top-level meeting.
A special United Nations envoy, Virendra Dayal, is due to arrive Wednesday to help both parties lay the groundwork to ensure that the summit - the first full meeting of ANC and government delegations in months - is a success.
Meanwhile, an advance party of up to 50 UN monitors have already begun arriving to monitor violence. It is hoped their presence will prevent a repeat of the Ciskei incident last Monday, when security forces in the nominally independent black homeland opened fire without warning on the ANC demonstrators.
The UN monitors will be stationed at various points around the country, particularly in other black homelands where the ANC is planning mass demonstrations. Quick UN response
It took the UN less than 24 hours to decide to send Mr. Dayal after the South African government asked the organization Thursday to help end violence and get negotiations restarted.
President Frederik de Klerk effectively suspended government involvement in constitutional talks, saying he could not negotiate a political settlement while the ANC was fomenting violence and revolution.
"It is simply not possible to negotiate constitutional issues before the question of violence has been dealt with satisfactorily," Mr. De Klerk said.
His statement represented a significant change in government policy on negotiations, which were stalled by the ANC's withdrawal in June because of ongoing violence in black townships.
Previously, De Klerk had argued that political negotiations must proceed as quickly as possible in order to stop further killings. The shift in his position means that both the ANC and the government now have made the question of violence the foremost priority.
The only difference is that each side holds the other responsible for the Ciskei killings.
The ANC's decision to accept De Klerk's offer of a summit came in the face of calls by hard-liners, including South African Communist Party (SACP) chief Chris Hani, to close down all channels of communications with the government and concentrate on mass protests and rolling strikes to speed up the end of minority rule.
ANC national executive committee member Aziz Pahad said the ANC's decision to attend the violence summit - despite the immense anger over the Ciskei massacre - "reflected our concern that the country was sliding into the abyss. The killing was so shocking that it jolted both sides to their senses," he said.
Prior to agreeing to the summit, the ANC called on the government to take practical steps to end violence in order to create the right climate for the meeting.
At first the government seemed uninterested in meeting this demand, but very quickly took decisive steps to boost confidence about the outcome of the summit. Pretoria has asked the Goldstone Commission, South Africa's own independent inquiry into violence, to investigate the causes of the Ciskei massacre.
In response, Ciskei officials have ceded the investigation over to Judge Richard Goldstone, the commission chief. The easy transfer reinforces the assertion that Ciskei is not a independent area, but part of South Africa, over which Pretoria must carry the weight of responsibility.
The Goldstone Commission will furnish its findings and recommendations to De Klerk by Sept. 30. The homeland issue
There was speculation over the weekend that Pretoria was poised to take over direct responsibility for Ciskei's security forces from the military ruler, Brig. Joshua "Oupa" Gqozo. The beleaguered brigadier is expected to be given this demand when he meets Foreign Affairs Minister Roelof "Pik" Botha tomorrow.
The international community, including British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, had issued strong statements last week putting pressure on the De Klerk government to exercise control over security forces in Ciskei and other homelands.
Germany also said it held Pretoria responsible for "this behavior in a homeland whose purported independence has never been recognized by the international community."
But even if Pretoria takes action against the homeland governments in advance of the summit on violence, there is no guarantee that a return to political negotiations will follow.
The former chairman of the management committee of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, SACP member Pravin Gordham, said CODESA had failed because of the lack of good faith on the part of the government. "[Pretoria] was not willing to accept majority rule as an inevitable consequence of its commitment to democracy," he said.
"It is quite clear that meaningful negotiations can commence only if some of the fundamental issues currently under dispute between the government and the ANC are resolved."