South African talks span the political spectrum

March 06, 1993|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

KEMPTON, PARK, SOUTH AFRICA — KEMPTON PARK, South Africa -- South Africa's multiparty democracy talks resumed yesterday after a 10-month deadlock with a meeting of 26 black and white parties from the extreme left to the far right.

It was the broadest assortment of parties ever to gather under a single roof in South Africa. Participants ranged from the Conservative Party, which wants an all-white homeland, to the ,, Pan Africanist Congress, the black leftist organization whose military wing declared war on all whites last year.

Dawie de Villiers, a representative of the ruling National Party, called it "the most representative political forum ever held in our country" and said it was "an encouraging and positive sign giving rise to optimism for the future."

Cyril Ramaphosa, top negotiator for the African National Congress, said his organization was "heartened by the fact that almost the entire spectrum of political formations of our country are represented."

Participation in the two-day meeting showed how far South Africans have gone from the days when white governments preferred to ban or detain black opponents than talk with them.

But the different agendas and goals of the 26 organizations also showed how far the country still must go if all major parties are to play a role in building peace and democracy in South Africa.

Despite its importance, the meeting is not about constitutional issues. Its goal is to set a time and agenda for the resumption of constitutional talks, which could begin later this month and are -- expected to culminate with South Africa's first nonracial


Of the parties attending the meeting, two -- the Conservative Party and the Afrikaner Volksunie -- were right-wing parties coming to the table for the first time after strenuously objecting to the very concept of negotiating their future with blacks. Both ,, favor a state in which whites would continue to govern themselves and remain separate from the black majority.

The Pan Africanist Congress, whose slogan is "one settler, one bullet," a chilling reference to killing whites, returned to talks after walking out in 1991, shortly after black-white negotiations began.

The decision of those groups to attend brings all but a handful of tiny extremist organizations to the negotiating table.

The ANC and the white-minority government, led by President F. W. de Klerk's National Party, have gone far toward closing the gap between their proposals for a new government.

Last month, they reached a landmark agreement that a coalition government of black and white parties should govern the country for up to five years after the first democratic elections, which are expected to be held next year.

But their agreement is opposed by some parties, most vTC significantly theZulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who wants a nearly autonomous region carved out for his party to govern.

As expected, Inkatha representatives at the multiparty meeting rejected the ANC-government plan.

Most South Africans believe the future is uncertain regardless of which path the country follows, but there also is a growing consensus that whatever the path, it must be reached through negotiations.

"The great lesson is that there is no alternative to negotiation -- not violence, not threats and demands, not boycott actions," said Roelf Meyer, minister of constitutional development. "We have no future but a negotiated future."

At the meeting, Law and Order Minister Hernus Kriel announced the arrest of three men in the attack on a truck full of school children in Natal Province this week. Six children were killed.

As the meeting went on, 10 more blacks were killed in another ambush in Natal.

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