Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable. But last week, after several days of heated debate in Johannesburg’s World Trade Centre, multiparty negotiators approved a watershed agreement clearing away one of the final obstacles to ending more than 300 years of white-minority rule in South Africa. Delegates to the democracy talks, involving most political groupings and the government of President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk, forged a draft bill to give representatives of the country’s 28 million disenfranchised blacks a national leadership role for the first time—and well ahead of universal, non-racial elections scheduled for next April 27. The legislation will create a so-called Transitional Executive Council (TEC) , a multiracial body with broad authority to oversee the government until the vote. “The agreement to install the TEC,” observed African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela, “is the beginning of the end of white supremacy.”
The bill, supported by 19 of the 23 parties represented at the talks, is likely to be approved by the white-dominated parliament during a special two-week session that begins this week. Simultaneously, negotiators will work on an interim constitution to take effect once the first fully democratic parliament is elected next spring. Mandela promised to call for an end to all economic sanctions against South Africa once the draft bill is passed. But conservative groups on both sides of South Africa’s racial divide condemned the powersharing deal—and warned of civil war.
The predominantly black transitional council will have about two dozen members and could be operating by the end of October. It will have ultimate control over a new 10,000-member peacekeeping force and will also oversee the police, the army, the budget and the civil service, and can restrict the president’s right to declare a state of emergency.
But, once again, the violence that has marred South Africa’s march towards democracy accompanied the breakthrough. In last week’s bloodiest incident, gunmen opened fire on a crowd of black commuters in a parking lot outside Johannesburg, killing 19 people and wounding 22 others. In all, about 1,200 people have died in political violence since the election date was set on July 2. The ANC, whose rivalry with Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom party underlies much of the bloodshed, blamed the latest deaths on forces intent on sabotaging progress towards elections. “Whenever we make a breakthrough, then these massacres occur,” said Mandela. But de Klerk blamed the killings on both sides and urged them to take steps to stop the cycle of violence.
In Ulundi, the capital of his black KwaZulu homeland, Buthelezi repeated his warning that the existing “low-level civil war” in South Africa would intensify if deals worked out in the multiparty negotiations, which he is boycotting, are pushed through without Inkatha’s support. ‘The potential for action against the election is already high and will grow weekly,” Buthelezi said, reiterating his view that elections are aimed at consolidating ANC power.
Right-wing whites were similarly militant. The pro-apartheid Conservative party, which has also boycotted the talks, claimed that it would fight before accepting a “communist-controlled African National Congress government.” And neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance movement leader Eugene Terre Blanche said that negotiators had created a situation in which allout civil war was nearer than ever. “It’s insane to think any decision can be taken by politicians without the Afrikaner and Zulu nations taking part,” he said. “Unrest and chaos will follow.”
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