SOUTH Africa's main negotiating parties have moved swiftly to prevent Saturday's assassination of popular black leader Chris Hani from leading to a collapse of the country's constitutional talks.
Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress (ANC), made an unprecedented national address on state television, appealing for his supporters to avoid being provoked into violent acts of revenge for the killing of Hani, head of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and a popular ANC leader.
"His death demands of us that we pursue that cause with even greater vigor and determination," Mr. Mandela said. "With all the authority at my command, I therefore appeal to all our people to remain calm and to honor the memory of Chris Hani by remaining a disciplined force for peace."
Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu said the killing meant losing the one person, more than any other, who could enforce discipline over the militant black youths of the country's "lost generation," who are ready to die in the pursuit of the final overthrow of white minority rule.
Hani, a former radical militant who had embraced negotiations, was gunned down outside his house in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg after he had given his bodyguards the day off.
"Of all the people in the ANC, Chris had the greatest ability to persuade the angry `young Turks' to respect peace," Dr. Tutu said. "I am scared for the whole process of peace. It's unfortunate that there are people hell-bent on destroying negotiations."
The police detained a suspect, Janusz Walus, a ceramics engineer, soon after the murder. A white South African of Polish origin, Mr. Waluz is described by local media as a "concerned, active, and registered" member of the Conservative Party and the extremist right-wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement.
Conservative Party leader Andries Treurnicht denied reports that Waluz was connected in any way with his party.
President Frederik de Klerk joined in appeals for calm. "There is the risk of emotion being let loose, of people in return wanting to take the law into their own hands. This can only bring sorrow and destruction to South Africa," he said.
With the ANC weakened by Hani's murder, Mandela faces a larger challenge in keeping negotiations on track and preparing for the country's first nonracial elections. Twice before he has been forced to withdraw from the talks because of black anger with the government, and in the wake of Hani's killing, radical ANC leaders including powerful Natal Midlands chairman Harry Gwala demanded that talks with the government be suspended.
But the murder could serve to accelerate the talks. At a press conference yesterday, ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa said Hani's death should add to momentum for negotiations. "It's what comrade Chris would have expected," he said. And SACP chairman Joe Slovo urged parties to nominate an election date to end any uncertainty that the country was heading toward a new nonracial democracy.
But even if a negotiated settlement can be achieved, the ANC will have difficulty replacing Hani, who would have been a key player in the ANC's election campaign. The ANC will have to work harder to prevent militant youths from giving their support to more radical organizations.
The ANC and its allies have called for Wednesday to be a national day of mourning and say Hani's funeral - the date for which has not yet been set - should be marked by nationwide protests.
Hani's popularity was perhaps second only to Mandela's. A former chief of staff of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation), he once was a strong advocate of violence. But in his last days, the man once regarded by security forces as public enemy No. 1 was committed to ending armed struggle and supporting negotiations. Most importantly, he had begun selling that message in tandem with Mandela.
At separate rallies last week, the two leaders delivered speeches emphasizing political tolerance and the need to prepare peacefully for elections. Hani launched a stinging attack on the Azanian People's Liberation Army, the military wing of the radical Pan-Africanist Congress, for declaring open war on the white regime and attacking white civilians.
A note left on Hani's desk indicated that he intended to continue preaching that message. Scrawled on a piece of paper were the words "Peace Corps." He had been making notes on the development of a peace-keeping force.