ANC, de Klerk woo parties in election boycott

February 19, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- After a week that demonstrated the possibility for chaos in this country's first nonracial election, negotiators are going back to the constitutional drawing board in an attempt to bring boycotting parties into the political process.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the chief negotiator of the African National Congress (ANC), announced that the group that negotiated the country's new constitution will reconvene Monday to consider amendments to that document.

According to the plan, that meeting will approve a number of changes, which will then be passed by Parliament a week later.

Parliament also will reopen registration for the elections, allowing political parties that missed last Saturday's deadline to sign up.

Immediately after Mr. Ramaphosa's news conference yesterday, a variety of negotiators began meetings with various recalcitrant groups as the ANC and the government attempted to get right-wing black and white parties to accept their package of amendments. The meetings were expected to extend through the weekend.

The basic disagreement is over the powers of the local regions, the provinces that are South Africa's equivalent of American states.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party basically wants more sovereignty for the Natal region where his party is strongest. The white groups want complete autonomy for an Afrikaner homeland.

The package of concessions offered by the ANC and the government includes a double ballot -- one for the national government, the other for regions -- in the April 26-28 election. It also extends the powers granted to the provinces, including giving them the power to tax.

But, to Mr. Ramaphosa, the most important change seemed to be a proposal that allows the regions to construct their own constitutions in a style different from the national one.

"Provinces would be able to decide on what structure they would like to have," he said. "For instance, a province could decide to have a constitutional monarch.

"When their Parliament opens, he could sit on a very high chair with diamonds and gold and silver and all that. They could build him a palace as big as Johannesburg if they want."

Though that description was met with laughter, the message was serious.

One of the most ominous developments in the last week was the call by Zulu monarch Goodwill Zwelithini for restoration of the Zulu kingdom as an independent state.

About 50,000 Zulus turned out for a rally in Durban to back that claim as South African President Frederick W. de Klerk met with the king, who then appeared before the rally with Mr. Buthelezi at his side.

The militancy of that crowd underlined the possibility of trouble on election day should Inkatha stick with its boycott. One person was killed when gunfire broke out and there were other scenes of chaos as Zulus returned to their homes.

There also are growing acts of defiance by the white right wing, including a series of bombings west of Johannesburg. Right wingers this week took over the center of a town south of here. More than 60 people were injured by police when black township residents marched into town. Such incidents also illustrate the difficulty of holding a trouble-free election if the right-wing parties boycott it.

Mr. Ramaphosa said that the decision to grant the concessions was taken a week ago before these latest developments. "But we certainly considered what was happening in our country and the state that we want it to be in after . . . [the election]."

Though the initial reports of the compromise package was rejected by Mr. Buthelezi, Mr. Ramaphosa said that he hoped the Inkatha leader would reconsider when he sees the details of the plan and gets involved in the actual wording of the amendments that will be presented to Parliament.

Perhaps most important was Mr. Ramaphosa's statement that allowing provinces to decide on their own structures represented an acceptance of the concept of "asymmetry," meaning that regions will be able to decide their relationship with the central government, with some more autonomous than others.

This is a concept Mr. Buthelezi has fought for but that the ANC, with its drive for a unitary South Africa, has rejected.

Also in the compromise proposals is an agreement that the powers given to regions in the final constitution -- which will be drawn up by the National Assembly that will be elected in April -- cannot be substantially less than those in the interim constitution.

This is an attempt to answer Mr. Buthelezi's charge that since the regions get their powers from the central government under the interim constitution, that government,

which is expected to be ANC dominated, could take them away.

These changes should also be welcomed by the white right wing, though the substance of the compromise proposals aimed at the concept of an Afrikaner state appears to fall far short of the right-wing demands.

One amendment would put the right of self-determination by the country's various population groups into the constitution. According to Mr. Ramaphosa, this would allow the idea of an Afrikaner homeland to be considered by the new National Assembly.

However, it seems unlikely that the right-wing groups holding out for a homeland would agree to take their chances with this newly elected body which is certain to be overwhelmingly black.

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