Battle lines drawn as SA talks resume

SOUTH Africa's multi-party talks resumed yesterday in Johannesburg after a nine-month break, with delegates of each of 26 different organisations addressing the conference, setting out their battle formations in anticipation of verbal combat today over the way forward to democracy.

Many observers present had never heard of some of the parties, opposition groupings in the black 'homelands' such as the United People's Front. These and other marginally more influential groupings took up most of the available time yesterday.

Of more interest were the interventions by the government, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the African National Congress and their Communist Party allies.

Seeking to overcome their seven-minute limitation, Inkatha officials bombarded reporters with statements all morning. These explained that Inkatha would not accept government- ANC plans to share power for five years in an interim government of national unity. Nor would they accept a new constitution drafted by an elected assembly.

Joe Matthews, the chief Inkatha delegate and a former member of the Communist Party, spoke for his leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, when he declared that the ANC and the government were 'not the only show in town'. 'We should not be described as spoilers,' he said, before announcing that Inkatha would not go ahead with negotiations unless it was agreed, as a constitutional principle, that the new South Africa would be a federal state.

Joe Slovo, the Communist Party chairman and a leading member of the ANC alliance, provided his old colleague with an uncompromising response. 'If some amongst us want to hold the process hostage, then - with or without them - we must proceed.,' he said.

The government's and the ANC's speeches, with different emphases, each stressed the same point: that rapid movement must be made towards elections.

The conference's final resolution would be decided, a government spokesman said, on the basis of 'sufficient consensus' and all indications are that the majority of parties would back the government-ANC position.