AFTER nearly four months of political wrangling between participators and rejectionists, South Africa is on the verge of a political settlement that would involve 95 percent of the population in the country's first all-race elections in April.
``Things are falling apart for the rejectionists in the Freedom Alliance [FA],'' says University of Cape Town political scientist Robert Schrire, referring to the crumbling coalition of white right and black conservatives. ``The initiative has swung away from the Alliance toward the government and the African National Congress.''
Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and ANC President Nelson Mandela agreed at a summit in Durban on Feb. 28 that the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) would register provisionally for the election in return for Mr. Mandela agreeing to international mediation to resolve their remaining differences.
Despite ANC denials to the contrary, some Western diplomats believe Mandela broke the impasse in their meeting by secretly promising Chief Buthelezi a senior post in the post-election government if Inkatha takes part in the poll.
The ANC-IFP accord has shattered the tenuous unity of the FA and exposed a split within the white right between those advocating an election boycott and those wanting to demonstrate electoral support for an Afrikaner homeland (Volkstaat).
The right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) and the nominally independent black homeland of Bophuthatswana were plunged into turmoil last weekend by the IFP decision to register for the election three hours before the March 4 midnight deadline.
The Bophuthatswana Cabinet decided at a special meeting yesterday not to take part in the April elections and to refer the matter to a full sitting of the homeland parliament on March 15. Meanwhile, a widespread strike by civil servants - demanding participation in the poll - continued to gain momentum.
``The crumbling of the Freedom Alliance - and the disarray that has ensued among white right-wingers - demonstrates the relentless power of the underlying forces that are reshaping this country,'' said the Sunday Times, based in Johannesburg.
THE dramatic last-minute registration Friday of a right-wing party - the ``Freedom Front'' - by Volksfront co-leader Gen. Constand Viljoen was rejected (72 to 20) Saturday by the Volksfront executive, which is dominated by the right-wing Conservative Party (CP). But grass-roots support for General Viljoen was mounting yesterday amid speculation that he and his supporters could remain in the race.
The former generals of the South African Defense Force, who formed the AVF a year ago, backed Viljoen along with at least six of the CP's 35 or so legislators. According to a source close to talks between the Volksfront and ANC, Viljoen is winning the backing of farmers and agricultural groups who form the backbone of the white right wing.
``It looks as though Viljoen could win a decisive majority at the grass-roots level despite his being swept aside by the leadership,'' the source says.
AVF co-leader and CP leader Ferdi Hartzenberg conceded Sunday that the right wing might still take part in the election.
``A lot of pressure is building up, inside and outside the AVF, to agree to participating,'' says Gen. Tienie Groenewald, Viljoen's right-hand man in the Volksfront.
The Freedom Front must present a list of candidates by tomorrow night in order to meet the election deadline. But Mandela has indicated that deadlines should be flexible in order to accommodate parties still outside the process.
``I am still prepared to talk to those who refuse to register.... We must develop absolute patience and the ability to understand the fears of others,'' said Mandela on Sunday, adding that he would argue that there should be no deadlines for registration.
Analysts say the agreement on international mediation is a face-saving device cooked up privately between Mandela and Buthelezi to allow Inkatha to take part in the poll. ``One is very tempted to conclude that international mediation is a smoke screen to conceal a secret deal between the two leaders,'' says Eugene Nyati, director of the Center for African Studies in Johannesburg.
While President Frederik de Klerk insists he supports Inkatha taking part in the ballot, opinion polls indicate his National Party would gain from an IFP election boycott. Mr. De Klerk, who has argued strongly against further international involvement in the transition, poured cold water on the mediation idea several times last week.