A TERRORIST attack on white worshippers at prayer in a Cape Town church on Sunday night, in which at least 11 people were killed and 52 wounded, is likely to destabilize political negotiations and hasten the disintegration of the ruling National Party.
"This horrific attack will have an immensely powerful social effect on a society where people are looking for hope and refuge in an increasingly bleak situation," says Lloyd Vogelman, director of the Project for the Study of Violence at Witwaters-rand University.
"It closes down another space for people to find safe havens and will polarize the situation in a very real way," he says.
Mr. Vogelman says the attack will speed up the breakdown of the ruling party which, according to opinion polls, is already losing significant support to the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
The African National Congress (ANC) will almost certainly gain the most support in the country's first fully free elections, planned for next year, but there is increasing uncertainty about whether the ruling party will be able to claim second place.
The Cape Town assault did not, however, disrupt yesterday's publication of a draft constitution negotiated by a consortium of South African political groups. The charter is intended to bring about a transition to democracy, which would extend the vote to the 30-million black South African majority for the first time in the country's history.
"It is becoming increasingly clear to whites that the National Party can no longer offer them security or maintain law and order in any meaningful kind of way," Vogelman says.
"The chances of the IFP winning 20 to 25 percent of the white vote and pushing the National Party into third place in an election have been significantly strengthened by this attack," he adds. @BODYTEXT =
IVE black gunmen, wearing blue overalls and military fatigues, burst into a packed congregation in the St. James Anglican Church in the upper-middle-class and predominantly English-speaking neighborhood of Kenilworth.
The gunmen hurled grenades at the congregation of more than 1,000 before spraying them with automatic machine-gun fire.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, called the attack "horrifying and almost unbelievable. It is the most foul and despicable thing imaginable," he said.
Legislator Jan van Eck, who represents the ANC in the white-dominated parliament, said: "We heard loud explosions. We ran to the church. It was horrible. There was blood on the church steps."
Eyewitnesses saw the gunmen running to a car outside the church after the military-style attack.
The witnesses said the men burst into the church as the congregation was listening to songs of praise. The gunmen did not speak, and the whole operation took about 30 seconds.
It is the worst act of indiscriminate terror against white civilians since black liberation movements were legalized three-and-a-half years ago.
The attack bore the hallmarks of three previous attacks against whites by the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (APLA), the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), but no organization has claimed responsibility for the attack.
PAC Information Secretary Barney Desai condemned the attack, saying it was perpetrated by people who wished to prevent a transition to a democratic South Africa.
He said the PAC would never attack a church and demanded that the killers be tracked down.
Mr. Desai called on blacks to arm themselves because of the "mind-boggling" number of arms in white hands.
Vogelman says there were two possibilities: Either the attack was an act of racial hatred by the APLA or alienated black renegades, or it was the work of killers hired by white right-wing organizations.
"Either way, the effect is the same: polarization of the parties trying to negotiate a transition to democracy," Vogelman says.
The ANC said in a statement: "We are shattered by the news.... The barbarism of an armed attack on churchgoers busy in prayer defies description and must be condemned unreservedly and in the strongest possible terms."
President Frederik de Klerk, visibly shaken by the news, said: "The attack on a church introduces a new and horrifying element into the cycle of violence which the country is experiencing and points to the inherently evil nature of those involved in the perpetration of violence.
"The great majority of decent South Africans must not allow outrages such as these to undermine our common effort to achieve a peaceful and negotiated solution to the problems of our country," Mr. De Klerk said.
Mervyn Frost, professor of politics at the University of Natal, says the attack illustrated the urgent need to establish a multiracial transitional authority so that "hard-nosed" policing could be given a broader legitimacy.
The key provision in the proposed draft constitution, released yesterday as planned, calls for a democratic government elected on the basis of universal suffrage and "committed to achieving equality between men and women and people of all races."
The draft constitution also calls for a relatively strong central government and rejects proposals by ethnic groups seeking territorial independence or autonomy.
Compiled during months of talks among the groups, the draft contained no surprises and was certain to be widely debated and revised before approval.