A POWERFUL package of constitutional concessions endorsed by the African National Congress on Wednesday will divide the dissenting coalition of white right and conservative black leaders and remove the last major threat to the country's first all-race elections in April, analysts say.
The ANC's unconditional offer has also paved the way for a last sitting of the white-dominated Parliament to amend the draft constitution and the Electoral Act. These changes will include extending the expired Feb. 12 deadline for parties to register for the April ballot.
Nelson Mandela stressed that this was the ANC's final offer, and that the election would not be delayed. ``This is our mark of good faith,'' the ANC president told reporters Wednesday night before departing for a three-day visit to Holland.
The ANC package concedes separate national and regional voting, rather than a single ballot, acknowledges the principle of self-determination for ethnic minorities, and leaves open the possibility of the Afrikaners negotiating a homeland after the election. The proposal empowers provinces to raise their own finances and determine their own legislative and executive structures under their own regional constitutions.
The ANC has also agreed to demands that the final constitution drawn up after the April poll not be able to ``substantially diminish'' the powers of provinces enshrined in the interim constitution accepted last November.
Militant right-wing leaders vowed to take over up to 60 rural towns in Transvaal Province in an attempt to build an Afrikaner homeland. And Zulu Monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini earlier this week demanded a sovereign Zulu state in Natal Province.
Western diplomats said the compromise represented a statesmanlike gesture on Mr. Mandela's part and would leave dissenters isolated and without any legitimacy for their demands.
``It shows how deeply worried the ANC is by the threat of right-wing disruption of the election,'' says Cape Town University political scientist David Welsh. ``You could almost say Mandela has become obsessed with the right-wing threat.''
The ANC announced the package only hours after the first serious clashes between militant black demonstrators and right-wing whites in the Conservative Party stronghold of Standerton in the Eastern Transvaal Province.
More than 60 black people were injured by police firing shotguns and rubber bullets as black demonstrators prepared to march from Sakhile township to Standerton to protest against the white council's decision to become part of an undefined Afrikaner homeland. The council banned the ANC march.
Mandela disclosed Tuesday that he had had a two-hour meeting over the weekend with former President Pieter Botha. Diplomats said that Mandela had tried to persuade Mr. Botha, who has links with the white right, to mediate between government and right-wingers.
Initial reactions to the offer from elements of the Freedom Alliance (FA), a coalition of white right-wing groups and conservative black homeland leaders, indicated a clear division between hardliners and moderates.
While the more moderate leadership of the Bophuthatswana homeland reacted favorably to the proposals, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi rejected the package and accused ANC President Nelson Mandela of ``cheap politicking.''
The Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), which is deeply divided about participation in the April poll, withheld reaction to the offer until it has studied the plan.
Both Inkatha and the AVF had indicated that they would boycott the April poll, but opinion polls showed that 80 percent of their supporters would vote for other parties participating in the election. Moderate AVF leader Gen. Constand Viljoen is known to support the ANC offer of self-determination to Afrikaners, although he has failed in the past to sell it to the militant AVF rank-and-file.
``There is no doubt that this timely offer by the ANC - which meets the key demands of the Freedom Alliance - will open serious divisions within both the Volksfront and the IFP,'' says a Western diplomat.
ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking at a business dinner in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday night, made clear that the ANC package was a final offer.
``We have made this gesture so that there should be no more talk of civil war or violence,'' Mr. Ramaphosa said. ``This is the best offer they can expect to get, and we expect them to respond positively.''
``I think this offer could make the difference between resistance, which might have wrecked the election, and violence, which can be contained by the security forces,'' says Prof. Welsh.
``I think this has placed government and ANC negotiators firmly back on the moral high ground,'' he says.
``I think it will create divisions within the Freedom Alliance and heighten doubts within the Volksfront about the advisability of violent resistance,'' he adds.
But, he concludes, ``It is inevitable that a significant section of the white right will continue with their campaign to establish unilaterally some undefined Afrikaner state - just as it is inevitable that Chief Buthelezi will oppose whatever is on offer because he fears a thrashing at the polls.''