AN attack on South Africa's negotiating headquarters by heavily armed white right-wing extremists appears to have brought multiracial negotiators closer together and raised hopes of an accord on an election date by the end of the week.
"It has weakened the government and bolstered the process," says a Western diplomat.
One of the first tangible results of last Friday's attack - during which police stood back and watched as an armored vehicle broke into the building and extremists vandalized it - was to clinch a deal for a joint peacekeeping force.
The force of 7,000 to 12,000 soldiers would be comprised primarily of selected members of the South African Defense Force (SADF), South African Police, and the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation or MK), but other liberation armies and forces of the nominally independent homelands would also participate.
The force would be trained by an international agency and monitored by international observers already inside the country.
The deal was clinched in secret talks between SADF and MK generals, but it is expected to be endorsed by the 26-party negotiation forum by the end of the week, Western diplomats say.
"It is a tidy way of getting around the more thorny problem of integrating MK directly into the SADF," says Jakkie Cilliers, director of the independent Institute for Defense Politics.
Mr. Cilliers says it appeared the government and ANC had agreed to the formation of a special force that could be used to bring MK into the SADF in stages. After the election, the peacekeeping force could become a permanent unit of a new South African defense force.
Cilliers says the failure of the police to act against the right-wing had further undermined the government's claim to continued control of the security forces and would strengthen the demand by black leaders for immediate joint control of all armed formations.
"It is quite clear that the present Army would not shoot at white farmers or right-wingers," he adds. "That is why there had to be a deal."
The break-in appeared to be led by the neofascist Afrikaner Resistance Movement. They sprayed slogans on the walls of the negotiating chamber of the World Trade Center, hurled verbal abuse at delegates, and slapped and punched both delegates and journalists. The actions have evoked a wave of revulsion across racial lines here and are applauded openly by only an isolated far-right minority.
ANC President Nelson Mandela, on the eve of his departure Saturday for a trip to Egypt and the United States, said: "It is very clear to us that either the government has lost control of the security forces or, otherwise, the security forces are doing what the government wants them to do."
In relation to the draft agreements on transitional rule in South Africa, a multiparty sub-council would exercise political control over the peacekeeping force and all armed formations while the SADF would retain operational control over its forces leading up to the first democratic ballot.
Despite a wave of anger from black and liberal white leaders over the police failure to thwart the right-wing assault, there appears to be widespread relief in political and diplomatic circles that the armed occupation did not lead to loss of life.
Mr. Mandela told President Frederik de Klerk in a telephone conversation hours after the attack that he deplored the failure of police on the scene to prevent the right-wingers from smashing their way into the World Trade Center with an armored vehicle, and he demanded immediate arrests.
But a day of mass action called for Thursday by the ANC will focus on an expression of support and solidarity with the negotiating process rather than a protest against the government over the police failure.
Mandela said that if the armed demonstrators had been black, there would have been scores of people shot. He said that Mr. de Klerk had "promised" him that there would be early arrests.
De Klerk vowed on state-run television Friday that the law would take its course, and arrests and prosecutions would follow.
But after a subsequent telephone conversation with de Klerk on Saturday morning, Mandela told journalists before he left the country for the annual conference of the Organization of African Unity on Saturday night, that he did not hold out much hope for early arrests.