South Africa sets stage for talks on new constitution amid signs of trouble

December 01, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Representatives of the South African government and more than 20 political organizations set the stage this weekend for historic talks this month on a new non-racist constitution.

At a two-day meeting that ended yesterday, the groups agreed on an agenda for the crucial talks, scheduled for Dec. 20-21. Minister of Constitutional Affairs Gerrit Viljoen, the government's chief representative, called the weekend meeting "a watershed in our history."

"We have now reached a phase where real talks will begin," he told reporters after the meeting.

But signs of trouble for the negotiations appeared as a militant black organization stormed out of the meeting and charged that the talks were rigged by the two major players. The walkout was the latest indication of a growing rift between South Africa's two main black opposition groups -- the influential African National Congress and its longtime ally, the Pan Africanist Congress.

The PAC, a more militant but less popular organization among South African blacks, accused the ANC of having made a deal with the white-minority government before the negotiations started.

ANC leaders, who denied the charge, have held a series of talks with government officials since the ban on their organization was lifted by President Frederik W. de Klerk in February 1990.

During that period, the PAC, which was also legalized after decades of being banned, refused to speak with the government. Its leaders suggested the ANC was selling out the liberation struggle by discussing any solution other than a complete turnover of power from the white minority to the black majority.

The confrontation suggests the extent of the problem South Africa is facing as it shapes a new society. Not only must its leaders sort out differences between the white government and black opposition but they must also reconcile differences between organizations competing for the support of the black masses.

PAC deputy president Dikgang Moseneke charged yesterday that the government and the ANC had worked together to defeat PAC proposals at the weekend conference.

The PAC had proposed that constitutional talks be held on "neutral ground" outside South Africa to deprive the government of any advantage and that an outside mediator be used, such as the United Nations or the Organization of African Unity.

The government has repeatedly rejected those proposals, and delegates at this weekend's meeting agreed to hold the first of the formal constitutional talks in Johannesburg next month. They rejected the proposal for an outside mediator but agreed to invite representatives of international organizations to observe the negotiations, which are expected to last a year or more.

The PAC disagreed with every decision made by the other 21 groups.

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