THERE is growing support in diplomatic and liberal political circles here for international mediation between the National Party government and the African National Congress (ANC) on the establishment of a multiracial interim rule.
"Unless the parties accept a mediator, I don't think there's going to be a deal," a frustrated Western diplomat says.
"There are still fundamental differences between the two sides and neither of them appears ready to make the compromises necessary to move to an interim government," the diplomat says.
National Party and ANC leaders are under pressure to resolve outstanding political differences against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating economy, escalating political violence, and the threat of a full-blown civil war in Natal province between Zulus who support the ANC and supporters of the more traditionalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
Political scientists express concern that the ascendancy of moderates in both the ANC and the National Party who favor a coalition might not last for long.
"The faction in the National Party which wants a coalition with the ANC has the upper hand at the present," says political scientist Heribert Adam, a professor of sociology as Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, who is visiting the University of Cape Town School of Business.
"If they cannot agree on a federal system there could be a rapid disintegration of the country along the lines of what is happening in Yugoslavia," he adds.
Progress toward transition has been threatened in recent weeks by internal divisions within the National Party over its relationship with IFP leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi since the signing of a peace accord between the government and the ANC on Sept. 26.
Some National Party members regard the pact, which includes a ban on the carrying of Zulu spears and clubs, as an insult to Chief Buthelezi. The Zulu leader has been regarded until recently as President Frederik de Klerk's main black ally.
Others in the National Party want to set new rules for any future alliance with Buthelezi, who openly defied the government by leading a march of spear-wielding IFP-supporters through Johannesburg on Saturday.
Cracks have also appeared within the ANC over a report published this week that found "chilling" human rights violations in ANC detention camps.
There are also serious differences within the ANC over the issue of a general amnesty, and the desirability of a federal system of government and a limited period of powersharing under a post-apartheid constitution.
"Negotiators in both the National Party and the ANC are having to devote most of their energy to healing internal wounds rather than concentrating on an early return to negotiations," the diplomat observes.
In recent days human rights lawyers have added their voice to growing calls for a mediator.
"Mediation could result in the relatively speedy establishment of an interim government which will bring an end to the electioneering and bitter party political conflict which is killing both fellow South Africans and the negotiations," says Brian Currin, director of Lawyers for Human Rights, based in Johannesburg.
IN his report on South Africa in July this year United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali proposed the idea of an independent mediator with credibility and stature - but not necessarily a foreigner - to move negotiations forward.
But government officials such as Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha have mooted the prospect of an international mediator.
President De Klerk turned down an offer from United States President Bush - following the massacre of 42 blacks in the township of Boipatong on June 17 - to send Secretary of State James Baker III to mediate in the negotiating process. The US offer still stands, but US diplomats concede that a mediator could be effective only if both parties consented.
The ANC now resist the idea of an independent mediator.
"We may need a facilitator to bash heads together in order to tie up the loose ends of a transitional package," one ANC official said on condition of anonymity. "But I think it would be premature at this stage because the positions of the two main players have not yet crystalized."
Political analysts believe that the gulf between the government and the ANC on issues like federalism, the structure of a constitution-making body, and powersharing is so wide that there is little hope of compromise at a week-long bush summit between the two parties scheduled for early November.
In a hard-line speech to Parliament last week, De Klerk made it clear that he was not prepared to sanction elections for a constituent assembly until broad principles had been agreed in a multiparty forum.
The ANC, on the other hand, wants these matters decided by the elected forum.
The only hint of compromise from the ANC camp was the publication last week of a proposal by Joe Slovo, chairman of the South African Communist Party and a close adviser of ANC President Nelson Mandela.
In an article in the African Communist, Mr. Slovo proposed the adoption of a "sunset clause" that would entrench powersharing for a set number of years after the final constitution was adopted and before majority rule.
ANC sources say the Slovo proposals have been widely rejected within the ANC.