The surprise moves by South Africa's two pre-eminent right-wing leaders, hitherto bitterly opposed to electoral participation, diminish significantly the threat of bloody insurrection while boosting the country's chances of forging a stable democracy.
General Viljoen, a former chief of the South African Defence Force, emerged as the Moses of the separatist Afrikaner Volksfront upon its formation last May. Wooed relentlessly by Nelson Mandela's African National Congress in recent weeks, he was finally persuaded yesterday to break ranks with fanatical elements of the far right, such as Eugene Terreblanche, who still cling to the notion of violently carving out a racist volkstaat.
In a statement last night, General Viljoen said: 'I realised that the freedom to exercise the strategic options of the Afrikaner people would be severely restricted if we did not register provisionally. Due to the limited time available, this decision could not be approved in advance by the Afrikaner Volksfront.'
He added that the Volksfront had been registered under a new name, the Freedom Front. 'As the Inkatha Freedom Party has indicated,' he said, 'the registration does not imply that we are in any way recognising the 1993 constitution, but register only in anticipation of possible results of negotiations or international mediation.'
In a less startling but no less hopeful development a few hours earlier, Chief Buthelezi eased fears of a bloodbath in Natal province, Zulu country, when he announced he would register his party for participation in next month's elections. But, striking a warning note in the manner of General Viljoen, Chief Buthelezi said a final decision on going to the polls would depend on whether his constitutional demands for greater regional self- determination were resolved by international mediation.
The ANC warmly welcomed the decision by Chief Buthelezi, who in recent weeks had insisted he would boycott the polls. 'We hope the process of full participation in the coming elections will be a smooth one and that . . . the outstanding matters are resolved,' Carl Niehaus, the ANC spokesman, said.
If there was a hint of caution in Mr Niehaus' statement, Chief Buthelezi's comments to reporters last night revealed why. 'There's no point in campaigning under this constitution, which we reject, before it's amended,' he said. 'We have stated categorically we are not prepared to participate in the election under this constitution as it stands, without amendments being accepted.'
His change of heart, however qualified, was precipitated by the encounter he had on Tuesday with Mr Mandela. After mounting a carefully calculated charm offensive on the prickly chief, the ANC President persuaded the Inkatha leader to consider what he called 'provisional registration'. Chief Buthelezi's response was that he would accept the challenge on condition that the ANC accepted international mediation to resolve the constitutional impasse.
The ANC response was swift. At a leadership meeting on Thursday it was decided to approve the proposal of Chief Buthelezi who was left with little option yesterday but to sign on for the elections.
General Viljoen, who met Thabo Mbeki, the ANC national chairman, yesterday morning, also became persuaded that the best and safest option for the Afrikaner right would be to allow an international mediator to resolve the remaining constitutional conficts.
What no side has decided, however, is who the international mediator should be, a task which a joint Inkatha-ANC team - possibly now to be joined by General Viljoen - is expected to address early next week.Reuse content