THE government and the African National Congress (ANC) have moved swiftly to keep open the possibility of compromise following the failure of dissident Afrikaner and Zulu leaders to meet a weekend deadline for political parties to register in the country's first all-race ballot in April.
President Frederik de Klerk, briefing journalists during an election roadshow in Orange Free State Province over the weekend, said it was still technically possible to extend the registration deadline by recalling Parliament and amending the Electoral Act. ANC chairman Thabo Mbeki said Saturday that the ANC would support an extension of the deadline.
The move was aimed at decreasing the prospect of confrontation in Transvaal Province, where militant right-wing leaders are preparing to take over up to 60 rural towns in the attempt to build an Afrikaner homeland. It also reflected concerns that Zulu resistance could prevent the vote from taking place in northern Natal Province, a stronghold of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. The IFP plans to boycott the election.
Mr. De Klerk followed up the conciliatory statements with a tough warning directed at the white right, dismissing suggestions that he had lost control of large sections of the South African Defence Force (SADF) and vowed tough action to crush any attempt at a right-wing rebellion. ``We will not and cannot allow minorities in South Africa to undermine the election process and to disrupt or derail that which clearly has the support of the majority of South Africans,'' he said.
Following a deadlock last week in three-way talks between the government, the ANC, and the Freedom Alliance, a negotiating alliance of white right-wing and conservative black groups, there were indications that talks with the three main components of the FA would now follow a bilateral pattern.
ANC President Nelson Mandela last week held a secret meeting with Chief Lucas Mangope, leader of the nominally independent homeland of Bophuthatswana, which has banished the ANC from its territory. A joint working group has been established.
De Klerk today will hold his third meeting with the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, in a bid to reach agreement on a formula that will guarantee the future status of the monarchy and the KwaZulu kingdom and open the way for IFP participation in the election. Tomorrow, a delegation of the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) led by Gen. Constand Viljoen will hold talks with ANC and government leaders in a bid to revive an agreement reached two weeks ago but later abandoned after General Viljoen was shouted down by right-wing supporters in Pretoria.
A source close to the right-wing talks told the Monitor that the agreement would entrench the right to self-determination of ethnic minorities in the new constitution and set up forums in which right-wing Afrikaners could negotiate for a homeland after the election. In return, the Afrikaners would take part in the election, which would be used to gauge support within Afrikaner ranks for the idea of a homeland and indicate the geographic spread of such support with a view to negotiating boundaries.
While the Conservative Party - the main component of the AVF - and the IFP failed to register for the ballot, 19 national and regional parties met the Feb. 12 deadline.
The IFP on Saturday called for international mediation to pursue a negotiated settlement; otherwise, it would instruct its members to refuse to vote. A militant faction within the white right is pushing for civil disobedience and the unilateral declaration of an Afrikaner homeland by taking over towns where the Conservative Party controls town councils. Security chiefs fear that even such symbolic acts could spark open conflict between white communities and nearby black townships.
White paramilitary factions are preparing to crush resistance to the planned right-wing takeover by forcibly seizing police stations loyal to the government and sealing off black townships.