SOUTH Africa's much-vaunted democracy accord faces a crucial test this week. Right-wing white and conservative black leaders are threatening to unleash a campaign of civil disobedience and armed resistance if the government implements majority rule without accommodating minority demands for self-determination.
Frantic efforts to prevent a showdown are likely to reach a climax in the next few days as negotiators of the ruling National Party and the African National Congress (ANC) try to persuade the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to accept a package aimed at extending greater powers to federal provinces.
The package, which has been tentatively agreed on by the government and the ANC, would define exclusive powers for the provinces, give the new government greater powers of taxation, and allow regional boundaries to be redrawn after an election to facilitate the creation of an Afrikaner homeland within a federal framework - probably in the northwest (Mandela on the hustings, Page 6).
Stephen Maninger, a Volksfront official, yesterday described the offer as ``quite encouraging'' and said the Freedom Alliance (FA), a conservative group that includes the Volksfront and the IFP, was still considering the package.
The confrontation between pro-democracy forces and those demanding a form of self-rule came a step closer when President Frederik de Klerk issued a decree Nov. 26 that opened the way to give black South Africans their first formal role in government.
The decree enables a multiracial commission known as the Transitional Executive Council to be set up by Dec. 6 and hold its first sitting on Dec. 8. Right-wing leaders have likened the setting up of the TEC to a declaration of civil war.
The TEC, which was enshrined in legislation passed by parliament in September, will trigger the creation of other commissions and subcommittees to ensure that no party enjoys an unfair advantage over others in the run-up to the country's first nonracial ballot in April next year.
The South African Defense Force announced Nov. 26 that it had canceled the vacation of several Army units as a ``precautionary measure.'' The decision came three days before the expiration of a right-wing deadline for resistance yesterday, which was set six months ago.
The other two trigger dates for the start of defiance by the white right-wingers are tomorrow and Dec. 16, the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River in 1837 when the Boers (Afrikaners) said they made a covenant with God after inflicting a devastating defeat on attacking Zulus.
More than 40 people died in political violence in Natal and the townships east of Johannesburg over the weekend. It was the bloodiest weekend in Natal this year and a clear sign of rising tensions between the ANC and the IFP as the April ballot becomes a reality.
Both Mr. De Klerk and ANC President Nelson Mandela, who will jointly receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway next week, have appealed to white right-wing groups to accept a compromise.
``The ANC is aware that certain sectors of the right wing are preparing for war. They have already stockpiled considerable quantities of arms in certain rural areas,'' Mr. Mandela told an election meeting Nov. 26.
``The ANC calls on all democrats - black and white - to join hands and to work together to isolate all those who want to foster racial hatred and violence,'' Mandela said, adding that right-wing leaders like Gen. Constand Viljoen and Conservative Party leader Ferdi Hartzenberg were welcome in a Government of National Unity if they won 5 percent of the vote.
``This must be seen as crunch week,'' says a Western diplomat close to the democracy process. ``While there are signs that more responsible right-wing leaders like General Viljoen are dampening passions, the threat of violence erupting on the far right is greater than ever.''
Those groups demanding a greater degree of self-rule are gathered under the banner of the FA, an awkward coalition of the white right-wing and conservative black homeland leaders like Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the IFP.
Military analysts and political scientists do not believe that the right-wing can sustain an armed rebellion but concede that the threat of sabotage and guerrilla attacks are a volatile enough mix to threaten the run-up to the April ballot.
``A further danger lies in the fact that more militant right-wing activists have already declared their willingness to support the IFP,'' says Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, vice president of the Human Sciences Research Council.
Mandela warned at a town hall-type meeting west of Johannesburg on Nov. 25 that ``thousands of whites could die'' if civil war broke out. He said that the ultra-right would be crushed if it tried to start a war.
An interim constitution, which makes limited provision for the devolution of power to nine provinces, has to be finalized by the end of this week and submitted to parliament next week if the April election is to take place. Chief Buthelezi again insisted on Nov. 27 that he would not take part in that election based on the current draft constitution.
But the IFP Central Committee published six conditions Sunday for their participation in the election. The conditions appear to be within the framework of an offer made to the FA by the ANC and government last week. The FA was due to indicate its response to the offer yesterday.
Acknowledging pressure from within IFP ranks to contest the election, Buthelezi said Nov. 27 that he would rather step down as IFP leader than take his movement into the ballot. He warned that the country would be plunged into civil war unless it adopted a federal constitution that ensured self-rule for provinces like the Natal/KwaZulu region.
``It is the only chance of saving our country from the civil war which is otherwise sure to come,'' Buthelezi told supporters in the Natal IFP stronghold of Vryheid.