THE resumption of cordial relations between President Frederik de Klerk and African National Congress President Nelson Mandela this weekend broke the deadlock in political negotiations and rekindled hopes for an early transition to democracy.
"We're out of the doldrums at last," says David Welsh, head of political studies at the University of Cape Town, adding that the Sept. 7 massacre of ANC supporters by security forces in the Ciskei tribal homeland had broken the impasse. "I am confident that the stalled negotiation process has been kick-started and will be back in full swing by early next year."
In Saturday's bilateral talks on violence, both Mr. De Klerk and Mr. Mandela vowed to return to the negotiating table at the earliest opportunity and committed themselves to a multiparty interim government of national unity. They also agreed to back democratic elections for a constitution-drafting assembly.
The summit ended a four-month deadlock in negotiations that has seen a rapid escalation of violence and accelerated economic deterioration.
The government was under unprecedented pressure to break the impasse, with behind-the-scenes intervention by United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; the new United States ambassador to South Africa, Princeton Lyman; British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd; and Canadian Foreign Minister Barbara McDougall.
"It was the moment at which De Klerk lost the luxury of being able to choose which concessions he makes," a Western diplomat says.
Paving the way for the summit, De Klerk made vital concessions to Mandela on Thursday, freeing at least 150 prisoners and taking steps to halt political violence.
The discussions marked a clear victory for the African National Congress (ANC). Government negotiators were grim-faced at a news conference following the eight-hour closed-door talks. Mr. Mandela adopted a confident and assertive tone.
"We are happy - and indeed jubilant - to welcome 150 of our colleagues who have been freed," Mr. Mandela said. "We can say that we have succeeded."
But Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's withdrawal from future negotiations yesterday has since dampened the renewed optimism.
Addressing about 15,000 IFP supporters at a colorful rally in the ANC stronghold of KwaMashu near Durban, Chief Buthelezi rejected the accord signed by De Klerk and Mandela.
Their agreement on political prisoners and violence came as the six-year-old internecine conflict among Zulus in Natal province appeared to be escalating into a full-blown civil war. Scores of members of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party have been killed in the past few weeks and IFP leader Buthelezi has warned of massive bloodshed if ANC militants in Natal carry out a decision to march on the KwaZulu capital of Ulundi.
Dressed in leopard-skin tribal regalia, Buthelezi said that the IFP was "a national political force" and that there could be no negotiated settlement without Inkatha. He said he would regard as "illegitimate" any laws piloted through the government that gave legal effect to bilateral agreements between the government and the ANC.
Buthelezi said he rejected the concept of an elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution. He said it would be "unrepresentative and extremely divisive." He also rejected the decision to outlaw "cultural weapons."
"Any attempt to enforce such a ban on the Zulu nation will heighten tensions and escalate violence," he told a cheering crowd brandishing spears, axes, machetes, and other weapons.
The government agreed to ban dangerous weapons - including Zulu spears and clubs - and step up security at a plethora of male-only migrant-worker hostels that have become launching pads for attacks on residents in Johannesburg townships.
Buthelezi said that Inkatha demanded the immediate disbanding of the ANC military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and sought "built-in safeguards" that would prevent the ANC from disrupting future negotiations as it did at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa in May.
WESTERN diplomats said the accord should bolster Mandela's position in relation to ANC militants who advocate confrontation with pro-government leaders in the homelands.
The summiteers also agreed that government and ANC negotiators will soon hold intense bilateral talks to hammer out the shape of a multiparty interim government to prepare for elections.
Mandela said the next step was to set a time-frame for an administrative interim government and for democratic elections for a constituent assembly. "This is the only way to bring lasting peace to our blood-soaked land," he said.
De Klerk stressed that the goal of such negotiations would be to return to a multiparty format as soon as possible. "The channels of communication are open again," De Klerk said.
The status of three key MK members who are serving life sentences for killing white civilians in politically-inspired attacks had become the last block to the holding of the summit.
The government has consistently held that the release of political prisoners in terms of internationally accepted criteria was completed more than a year ago and that any further cases should be handled through a general political amnesty.
Pretoria and the ANC differ on the timing and details of an amnesty but they appeared to move closer on the issue at this weekend's meeting.