Pretoria Leaders Soften Terms on Interim Rule A Referendum - the First to Include Blacks - Could Be Held as Early as Next Year

Article excerpt

IN a step toward establishing interim rule, the South African government says it is prepared to make fundamental amendments - and even alter the status of Parliament - to create a transitional authority.

This could mean a national referendum to sanction decisions reached by a proposed all-party conference expected to convene before the end of the year.

The government has also softened its position on an elected constituent assembly that would sanction a constitutional draft based on a set of principles adopted by the all-party congress.

In the past, President Frederik de Klerk resisted the idea of incremental changes to the Constitution and portrayed the referendum as something that would take place before a new constitution was implemented in two or three years.

In terms of the new thinking, a referendum - the first to include blacks - could be held next year once the all-party conference has reached agreement on transitional arrangements.

It represents the culmination of a shift that has been taking place since the government admitted in July it had secretly funded the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party. In the wake of the scandal, the government faced increasing pressure to relinquish some power during the transition.

Since then, statements by government officials have hinted at what President De Klerk calls a "phased or gradual approach" to constitutional change. The shift in the government's position emerged in a Monitor interview Oct. 28 with De Klerk and in subsequent remarks by Constitutional Development Minister Gerrit Viljoen in an interview with the Johannesburg daily, Business Day, published on Oct. 29.

The interviews with both officials followed a weekend anti-apartheid conference that established a "Patriotic Front consisting of some 90 anti-apartheid groups - and demanded a "sovereign interim government or transitional authority" that at least controlled the security forces, the electoral process, aspects of the budget, and broadcasting.

The unity conference drew the two main liberation movements, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress, into a closer relationship. The PAC for the first time backed negotiations and agreed to preliminary talks on the Constitution.

De Klerk said the government was prepared to give up some power, but it would have to be the result of a constitutional process and not through suspending the Constitution and creating an interim government to rule by decree in a constitutional vacuum. …