JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela and President F. W. de Klerk put South Africa back on the road to democracy yesterday with an agreement that breathed new life into the country's moribund negotiations process.
The accord, in which the government pledged the release of political prisoners and measures to reduce violence, broke a 3-month-old deadlock between Mr. de Klerk's white-minority government and Mr. Mandela's African National Congress, the most influential black organization in the country.
It was announced by the two leaders after a daylong meeting that was seen as vital to South Africa's political future, which had looked increasingly dismal as relations deteriorated between the two sides.
Mr. de Klerk said the agreement meant "a firm basis has been laid for the resumption of negotiations," which have been stalled since June 23.
"The channels of communication are open again," he said at a news conference following the eight-hour session. "Today is a milestone on the way forward for South Africa."
"There is no reason why a political settlement should not be achieved within a relatively short period," Mr. Mandela said.
The two men gave no indication on when the talks aimed at dismantling white rule would resume. But they said their delegations would continue meeting to work out those details and to discuss other unresolved issues.
Mr. Mandela said he would recommend the resumption of negotiations to the ANC's national executive committee, which will vote on the issue soon. Mr. de Klerk has said repeatedly that his side is anxious to return to negotiations as soon as possible. He has called for a resumption of talks throughout the past three months, but he had not responded to the ANC's demands until this week.
Under the agreement achieved yesterday, the government met three demands made by the ANC after it walked out of negotiations, charging that the government was not serious about democracy or about ending the political violence that has claimed almost 7,000 lives since early 1990.
The government agreed to release all political prisoners, to ban the carrying of dangerous weapons in public and to improve the security around migrant-worker hostels that have been the staging grounds for numerous attacks on pro-ANC communities.
Government officials said they made major concessions to the ANC in an effort to resume the negotiations. The only thing they received in return was a promise from the ANC to reconsider its campaign of mass demonstrations and marches, which are aimed at putting pressure on the government.
Mr. de Klerk has called the demonstrations provocative and said they contribute to the already tense political climate in the country. His aides said the ANC expressed a clear intention to scale back the demonstrations in exchange for the government concessions.
Mr. Mandela said the agreement represented "important achievements for the whole country" but not an immediate end to fighting between black groups.
Underscoring his point, renewed violence broke out in the politically tense Natal region. At least 11 people were killed in the buildup to a major rally scheduled for today by the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, the ANC's main black political rival.
Independent observers were anticipating further trouble during or after the "Shaka Day" rally in honor of the founder of the Zulu kingdom. The rally is being held in a township with heavy ANC support, KwaMashu, and it will be addressed by Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has spent the past week roundly criticizing the ANC and its mass demonstrations.
Relations between the ANC and Inkatha are at their lowest point ever, but it did not appear their conflict would stand in the way of a resumption of talks.
The government and the ANC are the key players in constitutional talks aimed at ending apartheid and establishing a new government in which blacks and whites would have an equal voice in the country's affairs.
Mr. Buthelezi's Inkatha organization is represented at the negotiating table, as are 18 other organizations and parties, but it is universally accepted that any deal on the future of the country will be worked out mainly by the ANC and the government.
That is why an agreement between the two sides on getting talks resumed was absolutely crucial.
The meeting between Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela, each of whom was accompanied by a large delegation, was called mainly to discuss violence in South Africa.
Mr. de Klerk proposed an urgent meeting after the massacre of 28 ANC supporters in the black homeland of Ciskei on Sept. 7, and the ANC accepted on the condition that the government address its earlier demands.
But the meeting became an opportunity to revive the entire negotiating process by getting the two sides together again. They went beyond the issue of violence to discuss constitutional issues that also contributed to the collapse of negotiations in June.