ANC endorses power-sharing in S. Africa

February 19, 1993|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

SOWETO, South Africa -- The African National Congress formally endorsed the idea of an interim government yesterday in which it would rule jointly with whites and other black parties during a period of transition to democracy.

After a stormy three-day meeting of its 90-member executive council, ANC leaders came out in support of power-sharing with whites for up to five years, although they shunned the phrase "power-sharing," which offends many of their more militant backers.

The endorsement is the clearest evidence yet that the two major parties in South Africa, the mainly black ANC and the National Party-led white-minority government, are close to agreement on the route the country should take from apartheid to full-fledged democracy dominated by the black majority.

It represents a remarkable convergence of views by the two parties, former enemies across the battle lines of apartheid, and a sign that the country's reform process is genuinely back on track after a long delay.

When the process began three years ago with the release of ANC leaders from prison, where they were detained for their political views, an agreement of this sort was practically unthinkable.

Both the government and the ANC have stressed that no agreements are final until endorsed by all parties at a multiparty conference on the nation's future.

Such a conference is expected to begin next month, unless there are new hitches, and it would set the stage for elections later this year or early next year for a constituent assembly that vTC will draft the country's first democratic constitution.

ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa said the organization's national executive council "recognized that in the interests of peace, stability and reconstruction there will be a need for a government of national unity . . . that draws on the talents of a representative range of South Africans."

He said the life of the interim government should be limited, explaining, "It should not extend beyond five years."

The government of President F. W. de Klerk supports power-sharing for at least five years.

Mr. Ramaphosa rejected the government's definition of power-sharing, however, saying it would give minority parties too much power and allow them to paralyze the process of governing.

Mr. de Klerk has proposed an arrangement in which parties with 5 percent to 10 percent of voter support would be guaranteed seats in the Cabinet, which apparently would operate by consensus.

He also supports the idea of rotating the chairmanship of the Cabinet, but Mr. Ramaphosa said that was a way of slipping in a "rotating presidency," which he said would defeat the purpose of national elections.

The ANC and the government still have clear disagreements on how the government of national unity would operate.

But they have closed the gap significantly during several weeks of bilateral talks.

"They [the government] would like to see an executive committee where decisions are taken by consensus, which would dilute the concept of majority rule," Mr. Ramaphosa said. "The ANC is totally against this concept -- the principle of majority rule should not be diluted."

But he added, "We believe that to a large extent the obstacles have been removed and we are now moving toward finalizing firm agreements. The sooner we go back to multiparty negotiations, the better for the country as a whole."

The bilateral talks between the government and the ANC have angered smaller parties, particularly the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

The Zulu leader has threatened civil war if the ANC and the government try to force their agreements on his supporters.

He proposed that a nearly autonomous region be set aside in which he could govern without interference from a strong central government dominated by the two heavyweights.

Mr. Buthelezi, a prickly personality, could yet undermine or even undo the multiparty talks, but there were reports yesterday that his party was prepared to attend preparatory meetings next week for a new round of talks.

His final reaction might depend on whether the ANC and Mr. de Klerk's National Party have couched their agreement in terms that do not suggest to Mr. Buthelezi that he has been shut out.

Inkatha leaders met yesterday and were to meet again today with government officials.

ANC President Nelson Mandela first expressed informal support for the idea of a five-year government of national unity earlier this month, but militants within the organization balked at sharing power with the white-minority government, whose leaders had been responsible for apartheid.

Loud objections were raised by ANC members and minority political parties after details of a government-ANC power-sharing deal were released prematurely last week by an inexperienced government official, forcing both the ANC and the government to do damage control.

ANC executive committee members said that the objections were raised forcefully at their three-day meeting but that the militants were won over by the moderates, including Mr. Mandela and Mr. Ramaphosa.

The ANC leaders still might have difficulty selling the idea to many of its activists, who are already worried that their leaders are compromising too much and perhaps selling out the liberation struggle.

The ANC's decision on power-sharing was welcomed by liberal whites, represented by the Democratic Party, Mr. de Klerk's opposition in the white Parliament. A Democratic Party spokesman said that "encouraging progress" was being made.

But Constitutional Development Minister Roelf Meyer, the government's top negotiator, said that the ANC's position was still "quite confusing. . . . I can't see what is the difference between power-sharing and a government of national unity.

"The ANC will have to explain that more," he said in Johannesburg.

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