South Africa Falls Silent To Start Peace Campaign

Leaders pull out the stops in effort to ensure a free election next April

SOUTH Africans of all colors joined hands and sang peace songs around the country yesterday to mark the launch of a month-long peace campaign aimed at ending political violence threatening the country's transition to democracy.

Traffic and business activity came to a standstill in major towns and cities at noon and workers wearing blue and yellow ribbons observed a minute's silence as a mark of respect to those who have died in political fighting.

Hours before the launch of the campaign, multiparty negotiators reached an accord on the third of four draft bills that will activate a series of multiracial commissions to ensure equal media access and free and fair elections.

A fourth bill, which will provide for the setting up of a multiracial umbrella commission to help rule the country until an election, is expected to be passed within the next week. The four bills are likely to be passed at a special session of the white-dominated Parliament Sept. 13.

But they are unlikely to be enacted until an interim constitution, which is due to be finalized by the multiparty forum before the end of September, is passed at a second special session of Parliament in late October or early November.

Yesterday's minute of silence was observed by radio and television stations, which played peace songs at one minute past noon as church bells rang and people formed human chains and broke into spontaneous singing, applause, and cheering.

Motorists ground to a halt, sounded their horns and switched on their lights.

And the major newspaper read by black South Africans, The Sowetan, displayed the blue ribbon of peace woven through its masthead.

Its lead story was headlined ``Peace Fever,'' and the main editorial underscored the peace message.

The campaign, which is backed by all major political parties except extreme right-wing groups, is an effort to create a conducive climate for the country's first democratic ballot, scheduled for next April 27. Violence a barrier

Political violence, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives since the government stopped enforcing apartheid 3-1/2 years ago, has emerged as the major barrier to holding elections.

But in the past few weeks, political and business leaders have pulled out all the stops to ensure that the April 27 date can be met.

In the violence-torn townships of Katlehong and Tokoza, residents staged a peace march yesterday and six peace monitors set out on a 17-day ``walk-for-peace'' to the coastal port of Durban.

``When you start talking to people, you can see they're yearning for peace,'' said Desmond Khumalo, a former political activist who took part in the peace walk. The six walkers - three from the African National Congress (ANC) and three form the rival Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) - were sent on their way by the country's first black Miss South Africa, Jacqui Mofokeng.

Government and party officials say they are ready to contest an election in April and there are indications that the IFP's Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi - who withdrew his team from multiparty talks a month ago - could reconsider threats to boycott the ballot.

On the eve of the peace campaign, President Frederik de Klerk urged all South Africans to take part and ordered the national flag - both inside the country and abroad - to be flown at half-mast in respect for victims of political violence. Looking to election

ANC President Nelson Mandela stressed the need for a transitional council, multiparty control of the security forces, and a multiparty national peacekeeping force.

``After years of hard struggle and suffering, South Africa stands on the threshold of a just and democratic future,'' he said, adding that although an overwhelming majority of South Africans wants a peaceful shift to democracy, sinister forces are using violence to prevent that outcome.

Government officials responsible for issuing identity documents to voters and setting up 7,000 polling booths are confident that they can meet the deadline, and political parties have begun full-scale election campaigns.

Voter education programs are in full swing around the country, and the ANC, favored to win the ballot, began door-to-door canvassing in the sprawling Soweto township over the weekend to test its electoral support, which has been estimated at around 54 percent in recent opinion polls.

``We are beginning something we have never done before,'' said ANC election commission head Popo Molefe. ``If we do it well, we will bring in the government we have been waiting 81 years for.''

Campaign coordinator Elspeth Graham urged all South Africans to ``stop what they are doing for a short while and consider what they, as individuals, can do to help stop the violence.''

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