RIGHT-WING white leaders and conservative black groups have returned to democracy negotiations under a new formula that ends a three-month boycott and is aimed at finalizing the country's stalled transition to democracy.
The two leading players in the negotiations - the National Party government and the African National Congress (ANC) - have endorsed a new approach whereby the 21 parties still participating in the multiparty talks will meet on one track, while the five parties that have left the table will meet in bilateral tracks with the ANC and the government.
Separate bilateral meetings between the government and the new Freedom Alliance, a grouping of white right-wing groups and conservative black homeland leaders, were held on Oct. 18-19.
The Alliance met with the ANC on Tuesday, and next Monday will discuss the demand of Alliance partners for self-determination and the powers and boundaries of regions in a democratic and decentralized South Africa.
An important change in the composition of the right-wing delegation was the inclusion of the Conservative Party, which pulled out of multiparty talks in July and has refused to negotiate directly with the ANC.
The new negotiating strategy also seems to have brought the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party back into the process. Western diplomats discounted the hard line taken by Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi in a meeting with UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in Maputo, Mozambique on Tuesday in which the Zulu leader vowed not to return to multiparty negotiations.
``Buthelezi made it clear that he is happy to pursue negotiations through the new formula,'' a Western diplomat said.
BUT Inkatha's long-running rivalry with the ANC could still pose difficulties for the Alliance.
``It is more difficult for us this time round because we are in a broader forum, and the relations between some Alliance partners, like the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), and the ANC are extremely hostile,'' says a senior member of the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), a right-wing umbrella group that is part of the new Alliance.
The ANC-Alliance talks on Tuesday took place at the World Trade Center in Kempton Park, where the multiparty negotiations also convene. ``It was a remarkable achievement if one considers that the last time the rightwing appeared at the World Trade Center they gained forcible entry by driving through the plate-glass facade in an armored vehicle,'' noted a Western diplomat, referring to the June 25 break-in by members of the neo-fascist Afrikaner Resistance Movement that had been involved in a joint demonstration with the AVF.
The AVF and Conservative Party are demanding an autonomous territory in which Afrikaners can run their own affairs in a loose confederal relationship with the central government.
The ANC has ruled out the creation of an ethnic state but is prepared to discuss mechanisms for meeting the Afrikaner demand for self-determination provided they take part in the election.
``It would seem that some non-racially defined territorial solution to the Afrikaner demand for self-determination is still in the cards,'' the diplomat said.
The government, the ANC, and the Alliance have agreed on Nov. 5 as a target date to finalize agreements for a transition to democracy, and Nov. 6 and 7 as the dates for a summit of leaders to discuss the agreements reached.
The white-dominated Parliament will meet on Nov. 22 in final session to ratify an interim constitution and laws pertinent to the April 27 election.