DOUBTS are surfacing here that South Africa will be able to meet its April 1994 target date for democratic elections. Vigorous and sustained opposition from conservative factions in the negotiation process and escalating political violence have led some observers even to question whether the country will be able to remain unified throughout the transition process.
"I have never been more worried about the negotiating process in South Africa than I am at present," says a Western diplomat close to the talks. "It is beginning to look as though the rhetoric of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi could signal a long-term decision to resist the April 27 target date come what may."
The July 25 terrorist attack against white worshipers in a church in Cape Town, killing 12 people, is likely to further weaken the ruling National Party (NP), which, according to opinion polls conducted by three polling companies here, has been losing support to Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The polls now indicate that the NP has minority support among whites.
Political scientists say this shift could jeopardize the structure of the multiparty talks and strengthen right-wing demands for a whites-only election or a referendum on the proposed transition to democracy.
Since the April election date was set on July 2 despite opposition by the Concerned South Africans Group (COSAG) - a loose alliance of right-wing white parties and conservative blacks led by Buthelezi's IFP - the Zulu chief has warned of civil war and a Bosnia-type situation, if what he calls the will of the African National Congress (ANC) and the government are imposed on COSAG. Buthelezi addresses whites
After a deadlock in the negotiating forum last week, Buthelezi said he would not return to the talks until the rules had been changed so that decisions could not be made without the IFP's acquiescence.
Negotiators had been aiming for mid-August to finalize the interim constitution, Bill of Rights, an independent peacekeeping force to maintain order before the election, and the powers and functions of the proposed Transitional Executive Council. The mid-August deadline would allow enabling legislation to be passed at a special Parliament session Sept. 13.
But the multiracial transitional body to run the country during the election process - which was to be installed this month - is now expected to be up and running by the end of September at the earliest.
In his bid to change the course of negotiations, Buthelezi has addressed well-attended, mainly white meetings around the country, citing his opposition to the two-phase approach to negotiations that relies on an elected constituent assembly to finalize the constitution.
He wants strong regional government in the new South Africa, and is insistent that regional powers, boundaries, and functions should be written into an interim constitution before national elections.
He told a largely white audience in the Orange Free State capital of Bloemfontein last Friday that the government had sold out its own constituency by agreeing to an elected constitution-making body.
Buthlezi has also drawn in Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini to address two mass meetings, known as imbizos in Zulu, to broaden opposition to a deal. Some 50,000 supporters, armed with so-called traditional weapons (spears and sticks) in defiance of the National Peace Accord, gathered at a stadium outside Soweto on July 25 to hear the two leaders.
Buthelezi's strategy seems to be having some effect on whites, particularly members of the ruling National Party. Last week, some senior NP legislators spoke openly in favor of the IFP position on regional government, and one ruling party member defected to the IFP.
"Buthelezi is skillfully exploiting the fault line in the National Party, which separates those who are prepared to do a deal without him from those still committed to the IFP leader as the chief ally in an anti-ANC alliance," the diplomat says. "He seems to believe that he can precipitate a realignment in the country's politics over the issue of regionalism." Democracy threatened by violence
A draft interim constitution presented at the negotiating forum July 26 meets Buthelezi only halfway. It lists certain areas of government that will fall under the regions and others under the central government, but a commission is to report after the election and spell out what the powers would be.
Meanwhile, fresh waves of violence have swept townships southeast of Johannesburg, where more than 200 lives have been claimed.
On July 27, fighting in a township squatter camp left as many as seven people dead, and another eight people died in overnight fighting in other Johannesburg-area townships. Killings have occurred not only in strife-torn townships but also in formerly quiet areas.
At a recent conference in Johannesburg on consolidating democracy, Professor Bill Johnson, a political scientist from Oxford University visiting the University of Natal, said the time has come to consider that democratization may not be possible without the division of the state.
"We could be seeing the beginning of the disintegration of South Africa as a single state," he said.
"After all, it has only been a single state for 80 years. If parties perceive that there is going to be a weak and ineffective government at the center, it is to be expected that regional groupings will try to seize more power."
At a speech to the Institute of Multi-Party Democracy on July 22 in Durban, US Ambassador Princeton Lyman said that, while the negotiating process had survived some major challenges, the process was still threatened by loose talk of civil war and verbal assaults that violated the spirit of the National Peace Accord.
"They send messages that confrontation rather than negotiation are the order of the day: that indeed violence will be rationalized if not outright encouraged," Ambassador Lyman said.