JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela and President Frederik W. de Klerk meet today in an atmosphere of mounting political tension.
The meeting takes place as top government officials question the African National Congress' commitment to peace and as ANC leaders question Mr. de Klerk's integrity and willingness to continue negotiations toward a new constitution.
It also takes place amid a stepped-up ANC campaign of mass demonstrations and strikes aimed at putting new pressure on the government, which embarked on a process of reform in February but which recently has been engaged in a war of words with the ANC. Mr. de Klerk said the "mass action" campaign goes against the spirit of negotiations and could delay the 6-month-old talks.
The president has called on Mr. Mandela to abandon the campaign, while the black leader has urged Mr. de Klerk to step aside and allow the South African people to elect a constituent assembly to draft the new constitution, which would give the country's 28 million blacks equal rights with its 5 million whites.
The flurry of charges, countercharges and demands have left political observers speculating that South Africa's political reform process could be facing its most serious challenge. Both government and ANC leaders have said the talks might be in jeopardy, and each side has blamed the other for not living up to agreements.
Stoffel van der Merwe, minister of education and a member of Mr. de Klerk's negotiating team, said the ANC's mass action campaign had encouraged violence, including attacks on black local officials who are rejected by the ANC as part of the apartheid structure.
He also said the anti-apartheid group had continued to recruit members for its military wing, Spear of the Nation, despite an Aug. 6 agreement to suspend its guerrilla campaign.
Mr. Mandela, on the other hand, has come close to accusing Mr. de Klerk of bad faith. "Personally, I am finding it increasingly difficult to persuade my colleagues that President de Klerk is a man of integrity," he said in a speech last weekend.
Mr. Mandela has accused the police and military of taking part in violence against blacks, and he has blamed Mr. de Klerk for not stopping the violence.
But he denied that his differences with government officials meant the ANC wanted to halt or delay negotiations. "Our intention is to keep the government on track as they must work with us at keeping the peace process on the go," he told supporters at a weekend rally.