THE African National Congress and the main group representing right-wing Afrikaners have reached an accord that could lead to the creation of states drawn along ethnic lines within the new South Africa. But it could also save the country's first democratic ballot, which is set for April 1994.
The breakthrough, which flows from a secret meeting six weeks ago between Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) leader Gen. Constand Viljoen and ANC President Nelson Mandela, offers the first real prospect of reducing levels of political violence and the threat of a right-wing rebellion before the election.
Word of the deal emerged as South Africa's white-dominated Parliament, following raucous debate, formally approved black participation in this country's government.
The essence of the historic accord is that the groups recognize each other as fellow South Africans whose differences must be resolved by negotiation instead of conflict.
The agreement, reached after a series of secret talks, has secured a pledge from the Volksfront, or People's Front, that right-wing Afrikaners will take part in the elections for a Constituent Assembly on the condition that their demand for a semiautonomous Afrikaner homeland is acknowledged in an interim constitution.
The effect of the agreement-in-principle is that an elected Constituent Assembly will be bound to accommodate the Afrikaner demand for the right to self-determination in a post-apartheid South Africa.
According to sources close to the talks, a joint statement by the two parties outlining the agreement is due to be released today.
``I can confirm that there has been a follow-up initiative to the initial meeting between [General] Viljoen and Mandela and that a positive outcome is expected,'' a senior AVF official told the Monitor yesterday.
A senior business executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the talks were reaching a conclusion. ``It's peace in exchange for an Afrikaner homeland,'' the business executive said.
Mr. Mandela has spoken in recent weeks of ``confidential'' contacts between the ANC and the right wing, but ANC officials yesterday refused to confirm or deny whether Mandela and Viljoen had met or whether there were follow-up meetings.
The AVF generals are proposing an area shaped like a three-pointed star that includes Pretoria and large chunks of Orange Free State and Transvaal Province but excludes Johannesburg and the surrounding industrial complex.
The proposed homeland, which accounts for 16 percent of the country, is hotly contested by some right-wing groups under the AVF umbrella.
The major point of difference between the AVF and the ANC is over the status of an Afrikaner region. The AVF insists it must be almost autonomous in a loose confederal arrangement with other states.
The ANC and the government want the Afrikaners to accept a state under the ultimate authority of a federal government.
The accord has been made possible by a softening of both positions.
The right-wing retired generals, who headed the AVF delegation and are seen as moderates in right-wing circles, warned the ANC that they would resort to violence and military action if their demands were not met.
Some of the right-wing groups under the AVF umbrella - including the Conservative Party (CP), which is by far the biggest group, and the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement - were excluded from the AVF delegation because they reject any contact with the ANC.
The ANC delegation was led by ANC National Chairman and international department head Thabo Mbeki, and the AFV delegation was led by Viljoen.
The deal is likely to bolster what recent opinion polls indicate - that President Frederik de Klerk is now a minority leader among Afrikaners.
The accord will also increase mounting pressure on Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who is boycotting multiparty talks on the grounds that he rejects an elected Constituent Assembly with powers to change an interim constitution.
According to a source close to the talks, the Afrikaners raised a wide range of concerns about the future, including fears about the ANC's alliance with the South African Communist Party, freedom of religion, nationalization of key industries, and property ownership under an ANC-dominated government. ``The talks were totally frank and open. It was an opportunity for the Afrikaners to unload all that was on their minds and for the two sides to get to know each other,'' one source says. ``It was a real exercise in confidence-building, which can only bode well for the future.''
The right-wing CP withdrew from the negotiating forum in July claiming that its demands for self-determination had been ignored.
``Once the dust has settled, the accord will defuse the growing confrontation with the right wing,'' a Western diplomat says. ``In the long run, it acknowledges the principle of ethnic states, which is an admission that South Africa can no longer be governed alone by a central government in Pretoria.''