A NINE-HOUR meeting here between two black leaders who hold the key to peace in this country and its political future failed to score a breakthrough on the transition to democracy but produced an agreement which could help to stop escalating political violence.
African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi emerged from the marathon meeting on Wednesday without agreement on a date for South Africa's first free election.
But they agreed on steps to promote peace and political tolerance and appeared to reestablish a personal relationship that had broken down completely since their last meeting in January 1991.
"I think there has been a loosening up on both sides, and they have created channels of communication," said Oscar Dhlomo, chairman of the independent Institute for Multi-Party Democracy and a former secretary-general of the IFP.
"I suspect that agreement on an election date is now imminent and that there are no major differences of principle between them on the transition to democracy," Dr. Dhlomo says.
But within hours of the meeting's ending, a multiparty group in charge of guiding the country toward democracy decided to postpone a crucial meeting until July 2. The meeting was to have finalized a proposed election date - April 27, 1994 - and laid out the powers of a commission to oversee the country's first democratic ballot.
The postponement means that an agreement on an election date will take place hours before Mr. Mandela and President Frederik de Klerk meet President Clinton in Washington in the afternoon of July 2. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk will jointly receive the Philadelphia Freedom Award on July 4.
United States officials are hoping that agreement on an election date and a multiracial Transitional Executive Council will be reached before the July 2 meeting with Mr. Clinton so that Mandela can use the July 4 ceremony to call for the lifting of remaining international sanctions - particularly by US states and cities - and call for investment in South Africa.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have indicated that they are ready to resume loans to South Africa once black leaders give the go-ahead. A bill before the US Senate would open the way for US support for World Bank and IMF loans as soon as the negotiating parties agree on an election date and a transitional authority.
Mandela, who looked tired after the meeting, was clearly disappointed.
"We did not achieve the breakthrough we hoped for," he said, referring to the failure to agree on a date.
Chief Buthelezi said the discussions would make a major contribution to peace but did not amount to "a magic wand that will make violence vanish."
IN an interview with state-run television immediately after the meeting, Buthelezi insisted that the principle of federalism and the powers of federal states must be enshrined in constitutional principles before an election can be held.
"It is our understanding that the ANC is prepared to enshrine both the principle of federalism and the powers of regions in the constitutional principles," says a diplomat close to the talks. "That would seem to meet what Buthelezi is asking for."
Looking at the negotiations from Buthelezi's viewpoint, the IFP leader chose the correct moment to fight his battle on federalism, says political scientist Mervyn Frost, a professor at the University of Natal at Durban.
"He is insisting that specific powers of regions should be entrenched in the constitution before an election and that the principle be established that they could be changed only with a special majority of the regions concurring," he says. "He wants to be sure that a future federal constitution entrenches his powers in Natal Province before he agrees to an election."
On the issue of violence, the two leaders agreed to establish joint mechanisms to promote peace and political tolerance.
The meeting did attain its objective from the point of view of church leaders, says John Allen, spokesman for Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who jointly chaired the meeting with Methodist leader Bishop Stanley Mogoba.
"The message to the supporters of the two parties is that if their leaders can sit down together and have a long session and then shake hands - they can do the same," Mr. Allen says.