The white parliament, thought to have performed its swansong in December, will sit one last time before the April poll, to introduce the ANC's proposed amendments to the constitution. These are geared to addressing fears of the Inkatha Freedom Party and its allies in the Afrikaner Volksfront that they will be swamped by an ANC-dominated central government. Last night right-wing sources said they were cautiously optimistic about the concessions.
Mr Mandela, the ANC president, announced six concessions, as he freely described them, at a press conference yesterday evening:
Inclusion in the constitution of a principle on self-determination, to include provisions for the notion of an Afrikaner homeland, or volkstaat.
A shift from a single-ballot to a double-ballot system; people may cast separate votes for a new national parliament and a provincial parliament.
Provision for each province to manage its own finances.
Provision for each province to determine the shape of its government.
Guarantees that the powers of the provinces would not be substantially diminished by future elected governments.
Change in the name of Natal province (in deference to the demands of Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi) to KwaZulu/Natal.
'This is our mark of good faith,' Mr Mandela said, 'to show that we are prepared to bend over backwards in order to find a solution.'
The ANC president, eager not to appear weak, also had harsh words for Inkatha and the Volksfront, partners in the so-called Freedom Alliance. Describing them as 'steeped in the politics of . . . racism, ethnic chauvinism and violence', he said: 'We cannot . . . be held to ransom by captives of the apartheid past.'
Tough words, but held to ransom the ANC was. Mr Mandela admitted it was the threat of civil war that persuaded the ANC to cave in. 'If we did not treat the threat seriously we wouldn't worry about making the concessions as far-reaching as they are.'
A senior ANC official acknowledged after the press conference that the decision to capitulate to these Freedom Alliance demands had been made by the National Executive Committee 10 days ago. They were not made public earlier because, until now, the position of the ANC had been that they would only make the concession on condition that the Alliance agreed first to take part in the elections.
What the ANC has done is to offer something approaching an unconditional surrender. It is by no means certain, however, that the Alliance partners will agree either to participate in the April vote or drop their threats of violence.
Despite the ANC's assurances that they will consider the idea of a volkstaat, it is out of the question that they will allow a separate piece of territory to be carved out for Afrikaners where blacks, as hardline right-wingers envision their future, are legally discriminated against. And the question remains whether Chief Buthelezi has any real intention of participating in an election he knows he will probably lose, even at provincial level in KwaZulu/Natal.