ON the eve of a deadline for setting a date for the country's
first democratic election, negotiations for a transition to
democratic rule in South Africa are threatened by another crisis.
Militant youths, as well as township supporters of the African
National Congress (ANC), had vowed to render the country
ungovernable if negotiators failed to set a voting date by June 3.
But the parties said June 2 that the decisionmaking negotiating
forum would not meet until June 25 - effectively blowing the
Nonetheless, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi's
insistence that regional boundaries, powers, and functions should
be entrenched before an election remains the difficult obstacle in
"I don't think the major parties have yet settled the central
issue of how political power is to be divided," says Frederik van
Zyl Slabbert, a political analyst close to the talks. "In its
present form the negotiating process has the potential for infinite
Negotiators at the 26-party multiracial forum are racing against
time to reach consensus on a transitional council and a set of
constitutional principles that will steer an elected
constititution-making body after the country's first democratic
ballot, which negotiators have agreed should take place before the
end of April next year.
But since multilateral talks resumed April 1, the process has
been delayed by an eruption of anger following the assassination of
black leader Chris Hani on April 10 and the surprise crackdown last
month on the militant Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).
It now appears unlikely that the forum will reach consensus on
an election date by June 3.
Political scientists and diplomats who have recently held talks
with President Frederik de Klerk are hopeful that the election date
will be resolved within the next week or two and agreement on a
transitional package will be agreed by the end of the month.
Mr. De Klerk and ANC President Nelson Mandela hold no major
differences on the date, according to analysts, and planned to meet
Hopes for a long-awaited meeting between ANC President Nelson
Mandela and Chief Buthelezi were raised May 30 at a surprise
meeting between Buthelezi and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Mr. Mugabe, who has in the past been one of Buthelezi's most
vociferous critics, has agreed to act as a mediator between Mandela
and Buthelezi in a bid to help quell escalating political violence
in the country, which threatens to render a negotiated settlement
unworkable in the strife-torn townships and rural areas of Natal