Even a tentative election date is a big victory for African National Congress Negotiators still face tough issues

June 06, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The victory of the African National Congress was as plain as the headlines on Friday's papers.

"TALKS AGREE ON APRIL 27 POLL" said The Citizen, a right-leaning tabloid, at the top of its front page. "April 27 set down as date for elections" was the biggest headline in the financially oriented Business Day. "April 27 is target day for election" read the front of The Star, a middle-of-the-road paper, while the black-oriented Sowetan said "Poll date agreed on."

Thursday, the ANC had flexed its political muscle to get the so-called multiparty talks, to negotiate the political future of South Africa, to agree on April 27, 1994 for the country's first nonracial, one-person-one-vote elections.

To do that, it had to make the date tentative, pending another decision by the committee June 15 and final approval by the larger negotiating forum June 25.

But the ANC's bet was that once the date was out there, it would become fixed in people's minds and gain an unstoppable momentum.

At that point, any party that tried to block final approval of the date would be seen as standing in the way of democracy for South Africa. The headlines showed that the bet paid off. Whatever the provisos attached, the general perception is that there will be an election next April 27.

The losers in the ANC's move were the two right-wing parties at the negotiating table (the Conservative Party and the Afrikaner Volksunie), the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party and representatives of several of the so-called independent homelands, tribal-based areas set up under apartheid as black states.

The big issue for those parties is, in the American vernacular, states' rights. The negotiating committee will decide the balance between central and regional power in a transition constitution.

The ANC has moved away from its original call for a totally dominant central government, but its opponents want to insure that their local power bases will mean something in the new South Africa.

And those parties still have the power to block final approval of the April 27 date on June 15, since the negotiating council does not go by majority rule, but by "sufficient consensus," which means near, but not total, unanimity.

Though it would probably be politically damaging for any party to erase the April 27 date, the ANC does not want to risk anyone trying, since it promised its constituency an election date. A failure to deliver it with finality would mean driving more of its followers into the radical left.

Already gone is the right-wing idea of a new South Africa composed of essentially independent tribal-based countries, which could include a white- dominated Afrikaner state. The committee agreed Thursday that South Africa would be a unified country with a single citizenship.

But big issues remain, such as what to do about the political violence that plagues the country. Virtually every party has said that the violence has to be controlled before an election can be held. Thursday night, failure to adopt a committee report on violence almost blocked the election date agreement.

"Anyone who thinks that delaying an election will help the violence situation is just plain wrong," said one Western diplomat. "The only way to control violence is to get a government in office that has legitimacy with the majority of the population. Then it can crack down on the problem."

It's not clear what sort of structure will be set up to control thnation's security forces before an election or if the military forces of the ANC and the homelands will be integrated into the national army.

What is taking shape is the form of the transition government: South Africans will elect a 400-member constituent assembly by voting for their chosen party.

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