AFTER three years of turbulent negotiations and political violence, leaders of 21 South African parties are to meet on Nov. 17 to finalize a democracy settlement that will place the country irrevocably on the road to majority rule.
The watershed accord, reached almost four years after President Frederik de Klerk freed African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela, will extend the vote to the country's black majority for the first time in South Africa's 340-year history.
The historic settlement will formally end a disastrous 45-year era of apartheid that caused tens of thousands of deaths, shattered communities and families, and turned the country into an international pariah.
Mr. De Klerk and Mr. Mandela met Nov. 16 to nail down final agreement on key issues such as the shape of the future defense and police forces, the formula for decisionmaking in the Cabinet, deadlock-breaking mechanisms for a constitutional assembly, and a formula for democracy at the local level.
De Klerk and Mandela were accompanied by chief ANC negotiator Cyril Ramaphosa and government negotiator Roelf Meyer - the two men credited with sustaining optimism that an agreement could be reached throughout two years of formal talks.
``This is a historic day,'' De Klerk told the Monitor after congratulating the government's negotiating team Nov. 16. ``A new constitution has been born that can ensure a peaceful transition that will lay the foundation for a proper democracy. There has been a process of give and take, and we have made concessions. But all the fundamentals are there,'' he said.
``It is an astonishing achievement which will release a sustained wave of positive energy,'' says a Western diplomat close to the talks.
The country's first democratic ballot, scheduled for April 1994, will establish a Transitional Government of National Unity with a five-year life span. Parties that win more than 5 percent of the total vote will be included in the Transitional Government of National Unity. A 400-member national assembly will act as a constitutional assembly to drawn up the final constitution by April 1999.
The president will be chosen by the majority party and will appoint a Cabinet that must include, on a proportional basis, representatives of all parties that win more than 5 percent of the total vote.
An elaborate web of checks and balances will restrain the executive power and effectively transfer sovereignty from parliament - as was the case in the old British-style system - to the constitution, as is the case in the United States.
``This is a very significant break with the parliamentary tradition,'' says political scientist David Welsh of the University of Cape Town.
Recent opinion polls indicate the ANC is likely to win between 55 and 60 percent of the vote, and that Mandela will be the first president of post-apartheid South Africa. If the National Party should come in second, as most polls now suggest, De Klerk would become second deputy president.
The deal was reached against the backdrop of falling levels of violence and the first signs that the economy is emerging from a protracted recession.
There were also indications of a last-minute bid by parties of the white right and conservative black leaders to be included in forums necessary for participation in the election campaign.
A mood of exhausted elation prevailed in the stark negotiating chamber Nov. 16 as negotiators confirmed a historic agreement providing for restitution to those dispossessed of their land since 1913.
``It is the crowning achievement of the whole process,'' said negotiator Luwellyn Landers of the ANC-aligned Labour Party.
Fallout from a heated and acrimonious debate about the composition of the constitutional court could not conceal the obvious relief on the faces of the tired negotiators that the painstaking process was drawing to a close.
But Democratic Party negotiator Tony Leon created nagging doubts in the minds of some negotiators when he remarked on the unseemly spectacle of government negotiators supporting the ANC's insistence that the judges of the Constitutional Court should be appointed by the executive rather than by an independent body.
``This is a deal concocted by two elitist parties,'' said Mr. Leon, referring to the ruling National Party (NP) and the ANC. ``It has everything to do with power.''
The Democratic Party is supported by most organized bodies in the legal profession and the judiciary.
In the closing days of the painstaking negotiations, the draconian system of detention-without-trial was scrapped in an act of major symbolic importance to millions of black South Africans.
A new government would have to declare a national emergency to regain such powers.
Law and Order Minister Hernus Kriel announced Nov. 15 that 60,000 police would secure some 80,000 ballot boxes at 8,500 voting locations in the run-up to the election.
The transition-to-democracy package represents one of the most comprehensive and complex packages negotiated between sworn adversaries. As the pace and intensity of negotiations reached a fever pitch in recent weeks, both the government and ANC made major compromises.
The minority vetoes once envisaged by NP leaders were tossed aside in favor of majority rule - backed up by Mandela's personal assurance to De Klerk.
``It will depend heavily on the goodwill of the ANC and Mandela,'' says the Western diplomat.
The deal has so far failed to win the support of the Afrikaner Volksfront, a right-wing umbrella body demanding an Afrikaner state, the Zulu-based Inkhata Freedom Party, which is demanding near-autonomy for a Zulu Natal province, and two nominally independent black states that want to keep their options open - Bophuthatswana and Ciskei.
The country will be divided into nine provinces with their own legislatures, premiers, and constitutions, but they will have concurrent rather than exclusive powers, with a central government reserving the power to intervene in provincial affairs for the sake of national security.
The negotiated package is scheduled to come before the last session of the white-dominated parliament, which begins Nov. 22, in the first or second week of December for final ratification.
This will be followed by the establishment of a multi-racial commission - the Transitional Executive Council - which will help govern the country and level the political playing fields for the upcoming elections.