UNDER the threat of potential violence before South Africa's crucial election in April, the African National Congress appears to be under pressure to back down on two key negotiating points.
The ANC held an emergency meeting on Feb. 1 to consider revised proposals from negotiators of the white right-wing and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party. The emergency session followed deadlocks in talks on Jan. 31 between the ANC, government, and right-wing Freedom Alliance. The FA is an umbrella group that includes the IFP and the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront.
At issue are Afrikaner demands for a white homeland (Volkstaat) and the FA's insistence on separate ballots for the national and regional vote.
In a television interview on Jan. 31, Volksfront co-leader Gen. Constand Viljoen warned that an uprising could be unavoidable if an Afrikaner Volkstaat was not proclaimed before the election.
``I doubt whether an election will be possible if the Afrikaners do not get a homeland,'' he said. ``The level of violence is already very high, and if we don't get a homeland, it will go through the ceiling,'' he said in one of his toughest warnings to date.
General Viljoen, the most moderate of the right-wing leaders, said that it was still possible to hold a plebiscite among Afrikaners in February on the homeland issue and proclaim a Volkstaat before the election.
ANC negotiators are involved in deadlocked talks with both the Volksfront and the FA - a coalition of right-wing white and conservative black leaders - over their demands for separate regional and national voting and guarantees that a new government will not be able to override provincial constitutions.
``It appears that the ANC's insistence on a single ballot for both the national and regional vote is fast becoming the one issue that could unlock a last-minute compromise,'' says a Western diplomat close to the talks.
IFP Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi insists that his organization will not take part in the election if there is a single ballot. He is also demanding that the government that emerges from the April poll should not have the power to override provincial constitutions.
The ANC believes that separate voting would be too confusing for an electorate that has never voted before. Opposition parties at both ends of the political spectrum have criticized the single ballot as undemocratic because it would deny voters the choice of voting for a different party in the regional poll.
The international community has been cautious not to take a position on the issue. ``If the compromise over the voting system makes the process more inclusive, we would back it,'' says a Western diplomat.
ANC national chairman Thabo Mbeki said he would present new right-wing proposals to the ANC's top decisionmaking body. ``The discussion is going on,'' Mr. Mbeki said. ``We are intent on finding a solution.''
But ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa and government negotiator Roelf Meyer held out little hope of a last-minute breakthrough.
``The ANC and the Freedom Alliance cannot find each other,'' Mr. Meyer told reporters after talks deadlocked on Jan. 31. ``Unless they change their positions in the next 48 hours, there's not going to be much progress.''
Concern is mounting in security circles whether the South African security forces, which will be largely responsible for maintaining law and order in the run-up to the election, could be used to suppress a sustained uprising by dissenting Afrikaners and Zulus.
The Transitional Executive Council, the multiracial commission overseeing the transition to democracy, urged President Frederik de Klerk to proclaim the election date recently.
But the proclamation of the election, which must take place by Feb. 27, would mark the cut-off point for amending the interim constitution agreed to last Nov-ember by multiparty negotiators.
ANC President Nelson Mandela, who has acknowledged the capacity of right-wing whites to disrupt the transition, told an election meeting in Potchefstroom, west of here, on Jan. 31 that Afrikaners could be included in the ballot in such a way that their vote could reflect support for the idea of a Volkstaat.
Mr. Mandela has repeatedly ruled out the creation of a Volkstaat, but has said he is prepared to discuss ways of creating an area in which Afrikaners could run their own affairs provided blacks were accorded equal rights.
The ANC has indicated in talks with the Volksfront that it is prepared to amend the constitution to acknowledge the right of ethnic minorities to self-determination, but it will delay further discussion about a homeland until the Volksfront demonstrates it has substantial support, and that the concept of a Volkstaat is feasible.
The Volksfront has yet to demarcate a geographical area that would form the basis of a Volkstaat.