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Alliance keeps SA in suspense

IF THE Freedom Alliance did not exist it would be necessary for the media to invent it. With 90 days to go to South Africa's first democratic elections, the FA coalition of black and white right wingers is the only political group injecting a measure of suspense into the campaign proceedings.

The two main parties in the alliance are Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party and the retired generals' separatist Afrikaner Volksfront. Each have been issuing threats of war since their delegations pulled out of constitutional negotiations in July.

Will they take part or won't they? If not, will they mount a violent campaign to sabotage the elections? Will South Africa become another Bosnia? Without questions such as these the news out of South Africa would be pretty thin on the ground.

No doubt exists that Nelson Mandela's African National Congress will win the election by a landslide and that F W de Klerk's National Party will come a safe but distant second. The ANC and the NP government are working closely together within the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) to ensure the elections are free and fair. Yesterday they and their allies decided that polling would be conducted over three days, on 27, 28, 29 April.

As a first step towards creating a new national defence force, the ANC military wing and the army are training a joint National Peacekeeping Force to watch over the elections. The TEC yesterday picked Brigadier Gabriel Ramushwana, the military ruler of the nominally independent black homeland of Venda, as commander of the force.

Given that up to 3,000 journalists are expected in South Africa over the next three months, and given the colossal amounts of money the television networks have committed to the cause, the FA is performing something of a service for the international media, if not necessarily for the country.

Since the new constitution was drawn up in November the FA's threats have become increasingly shrill. But simultaneously the FA it has been negotiating, separately and jointly, with the government and the ANC in an effort to reach what it has become fashionable to describe as an inclusive solution.