A FUNDAMENTAL political realignment is beginning to take shape as South Africa approaches a second phase of multiparty negotiations scheduled for March.
Cracks are appearing within the ranks of the country's major political parties, as those committed to a negotiated settlement seek a common political home while others wanting to continue the struggle for full rights seek a new alliance.
Political scientists believe that such a realignment - which could cut across all existing parties - would crystallize with the holding of a nonracial referendum on a transition to democracy.
Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, a key behind-the-scenes mediator who has the confidence of both the government and the African National Congress (ANC), suggested yesterday to the Monitor that a nonracial referendum would help marginalize opposition to the transitional package.
"A referendum based on the consensus that exists between the ANC and the government on a constitutional package would sideline the troublemakers and prevent the political process becoming captive to the smaller parties," Dr. Slabbert said.
Several indications of this realignment emerged in the past week:
* Serious divisions among the leaders of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) between pro- and anti-negotiation factions emerged at a recent meeting with the ANC.
* South African Communist Party (SACP) leader Chris Hani, one of the most popular leadership figures in the SACP/ANC alliance, told the London Sunday Times that the SACP would break with the ANC after the first election. The SACP, he said, would form a socialist alliance with the trade unions and Winnie Mandela, the estranged wife of ANC leader Nelson Mandela, to fight for full rights.
Mrs. Mandela has begun a staged political comeback in which she is critical of the ANC leadership for muting black demands in order to gain some political power.
* Parliamentarian Jurie Mentz quit the National Party to join the Zulu-based IFP. He cited the government's increasing antagonism toward Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and its rapprochement with the ANC as the reason for his move.
The details of the transition are taking shape in talks between the ruling National Party and the ANC, but while the two have patched up serious problems sufficiently to allow multiparty talks to begin again, important differences remain to be resolved.
President Frederik de Klerk's wide-ranging speech Jan. 29 to the opening of what is likely the last session of the white-dominated national Parliament failed to allay growing concerns that major differences will not be resolved in time to hold the first nonracial democratic elections by April 1994.
"A huge gulf still remains, separating the ANC from the National Party on most of the issues involved in negotiations," ANC information director Pallo Jordan said in a statement.
"De Klerk's statement to Parliament has not assisted us in bridging it."
The ANC, however, did not mount a street protest outside the Parliament session for the first time since the organization was legalized 2 1/2 years ago.
In his speech, President De Klerk set an optimistic tone, but gave little of substance other than announcing introduction of a single education system and the phasing out of "own affairs" administrations, a euphemism for the remnants of administrative apartheid.
"Good progress is being made toward getting multiparty negotiations resumed at the beginning of March," De Klerk said. "If that happens we will be able to move well within our projected time-scales which could result in a transitional executive council in June and a new transitional constitution in September."
De Klerk made no reference to the election that he once said should be held by March or April 1994. Western diplomats are increasingly skeptical that this time frame, spelled out by De Klerk last September, is realistic.
"The government is reluctant to discuss the details of its proposals on powersharing and the powers of regional governments and the ANC appears to be over-optimistic and too trusting that it will all come out right," says a Western diplomat who has analyzed De Klerk's speech.
The diplomat pointed to major differences that remained between the National Party and the ANC after two extended rounds of bilateral talks at the beginning of December and again last week. The talks will resume on Thursday and continue next week.
Despite the significant rapprochement of the past two months, major areas of difference remain, including:
* The powers and functions of a Transitional Executive Council - and a series of commissions and sub-councils - which would take over functions of government in June and prepare for the first nonracial democratic elections for an interim government and a constitution-making body in March or April next year.
* The powers and functions of regional governments in a new constitutional order and the degree to which this would be settled in multiparty negotiations (the government's preference) rather than an elected constitution-making body (the ANC's preference).
* The nature of a transitional constitution that would come into affect after the first election and remain in place until a new constitution was implemented around 1998.
* The duration of the period of interim government. Consensus is emerging around a period of five years but this is yet to be approved by the ANC rank-and-file. A further five years of powersharing after a new constitution was adopted could mean another 10 years before full majority rule is achieved.
* The definition of powersharing during the initial term of the first post-apartheid government that would follow the adoption of a new constitution. The government wants to continue a system of consensus decision-making, while the ANC wants to settle for proportional representation of all parties in the Cabinet.
The government and the IFP, which have been involved in acrimonious exchanges in recent weeks, took steps to improve ties at bilateral talks last week, but they are still at loggerheads over the government's constitutional proposals and the method of negotiating a constitution.