Right-wing groups appear unlikely to participate in South African elections

February 23, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Hope has begun to fade that all parties will participate in South Africa's first nonracial election as the country awaits the official response of the Freedom Alliance to a last-ditch effort to satisfy its demands.

The many deadlines throughout this process have been given little, if any, respect. But with the election just two months away, it seems likely that the amendments to the country's new constitution that are to be passed by Parliament next week will be the last.

Those amendments were approved Monday when the negotiators who wrote the new constitutions reconvened three months after they thought they had met for the last time, sending the document to Parliament, which was supposed to have had its last meeting in December.

But at the behest of the South African government and the African National Congress (ANC), the negotiators changed the document to try to make it more to the liking of the Freedom Alliance parties, right-wing black and white groups seeking greater local autonomy. The main members are Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and the Afrikaner Volksfront, which wants a white homeland or Volkstat.

The negotiators:

* Agreed to a double ballot, meaning that voters will cast one ballot for the national government and a second for provincial leaders.

* Changed the name of the Natal province to KwaZulu/Natal as demanded by Inkatha.

* Gave the provinces greater independence in writing their own constitutions, allowing them to set up structure that differed from the national government.

* Gave the white right wing a constitutional provision guaranteeing self-determination for the country's various population groups and an advisory body composed of right-wing members of the new Parliament that would come up with Volkstat ideas for the Parliament to consider.

* In a last-minute addition, changed the constitution to give the provinces more exclusive powers, removing the concept of powers shared between the regions and national government.

This was clearly meant to be the breakthrough concession. An invitation went out in the late afternoon for the Freedom Alliance parties to attend the night negotiating session that passed it. But none of those parties showed up, claiming that the request came too late.

Yesterday, as the government and ANC tried to show that they had met all the demands of the Freedom Alliance, the most hopeful response they received was that the parties would study the document further.

Speaking in the KwaZulu capital of Ulundi, Chief Buthelezi dismissed the additional powers given to regions as nothing more than municipal responsibilities, while Freedom Alliance Chairman Rowan Cronje said in a television interview that the moves were "symbolic concessions."

Despite persistent questioning, Mr. Cronje refused to address the substance of the negotiators' package, instead continually criticizing the negotiating process.

Still, he was careful not to reject the package, saying that members of the Freedom Alliance would have to make their decisions.

"We have met every single one of their reasonable demands," said Vallie Moosa, a negotiator for the ANC. "If they do not participate, it is because they fear the electoral process; they do not want to face the electorate."

At this point, the strategy of the ANC and the government appears to be to try to divide and conquer the Freedom Alliance. Already one of its original members, the independent homeland of Ciskei, has relented and joined the process.

Negotiations have continued this week with the leaders of Bophuthatswana to try to get them to make a similar break. This would mean 2 million more potential voters.

But most observers agree that Inkatha and the white right wing have the greatest capacity to disrupt the April 26-28 election.

Yesterday, state President F. W. de Klerk met with Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini, who has been backing Chief Buthelezi's demands, even going beyond them last week by asking for an independent Zulu kingdom. No details of the meeting was released beyond a statement saying that talks would continue.

If Inkatha boycotts, the whole concept of a secret ballot would be moot, as anyone going to vote would be seen as an ANC supporter and thus potentially a target for retribution. This could have a drastic effect on voter turnout in Natal.

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