TRAINING of South Africa's first multiracial national peacekeeping force begins this weekend at a military base near Bloemfontein.
The force was conceived during the multiparty negotiating process to legitimize law enforcement in the run-up to the country's first all-race elections scheduled for April 27.
Assembled from at least 12 different military forces and police agencies, the peacekeeping force ranges from the South African security forces to the disbanded armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).
The first trained units of the force are due to be deployed in trouble spots in the first week of March. A team of 10 French police and intelligence experts is scheduled to arrive in the country in the first week of February to give specialized training to the South African team that will train the force.
But the new 10,000-strong National Peacekeeping Force (NPKF) is already the subject of heated controversy between rival political groups and military analysts. Intense rivalry also exists between the South African Police (SAP) and the South African Defense Force (SADF) over the best way of legitimizing the security forces in the eyes of the black community.
According to an internal police document published by the liberal Weekly Mail and Guardian on Jan. 14, the 110,000-strong SAP has conceded that it has neither the manpower nor the ability to guarantee the maintenance of law and order before the elections.
Yet the police have offered only a token 220 personnel for training in the new multiracial force, arguing instead for a restructured police force and the retention of law and order enforcement under police control. The overwhelming majority of recruits will be drawn from the existing SADF.
The NPKF will come under the overall responsibility of the SADF, but its mandate, jurisdiction, and precise duties are being hammered out by a multiparty Command Council (NPKF-CC) comprised from representatives of the 12 military and police formations contributing personnel.
The NPKF-CC reports to the Defense Sub-Council, a sub-structure of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) - a multiracial commission charged with overseeing the run-up to the April ballot.
``Clearly, a bitter struggle lies ahead between the sub-councils of Defense and Law and Order on the TEC,'' said Jakki Cilliers, director of the Institute for Defense Politics (IDP), a military think tank. The sub-council on Law and Order is a multiparty body advising government on the police.
Mr. Cilliers, a former SADF officer, has recommended that the NPKF should eventually be established as a fifth service of the SADF - separate from the Army.
This would allow a restructured police force to concentrate on community policing and repairing its poor image in the black community while, at the same time, facilitating the restructuring of the SADF and freeing the Army from the negative image that comes with being in riot control.
The SADF, even in its present form, is more acceptable to the ANC than the SAP's riot control units.
The NPKF, proposed originally by the ANC, is seen in ANC leadership circles as a means of restoring black confidence in the security forces in violence-ravaged townships - like Katlehong and Tokoza east of Johannesburg - where the discredited SAP's mainly white antiriot unit, the Internal Stability Division (ISD), has been rejected by the local community.
Some ANC leaders also see the NPKF as a testing ground for the integration of antagonistic forces - like the SADF and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) - into a new national army, a process that will take place only after the April ballot.
``South Africa's transition is unique for the degree of consensus that has been achieved between sworn adversaries about the division of spoils after the elections,'' says a Western diplomat. ``But one of its most serious weaknesses is that the first elections will be held without an integrated national army and restructured police force.''
The Joint Military Command Council, a separate multiparty body made up of senior members of the SADF, MK, and two homeland armies, will be responsible to the Defense Sub-Council and the TEC for overseeing the formation of a new national defense force.
One of the main weaknesses of the NPKF is the exclusion of members of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and white right-wing parties. IFP and right-wing leaders have rejected the initiative as a cynical political ploy by the National Party government and the ANC to impose their negotiated political settlement on unwilling communities.
Military experts have expressed doubts about the ability of a hastily trained force, made up of antagonistic groups, to restore law and order in townships, where political violence driven by an ANC-IFP rivalry and right-wing agents has led to the complete breakdown of law and order.
Cilliers, who recommended the involvement of French trainers after an extensive study of public order policing in that country, said that at present, the NPKF appears to be taking the route of classic UN-style international peacekeeping operations.
``The emphasis should rather be on public order policing,'' he said. ``In South Africa, you do not have an out-of-area deployment of armed forces in a foreign country. It is, rather, a case of South Africans trying to improve their own law-and-order situation.''
He said there was also a strong argument, in the longer-term, that the NPKF should become a permanent public order policing unit to replace the SAP's Internal Stability Division.