Battle to woo SA right intensifies: ANC and government axis renews effort to persuade Freedom Alliance to fight through ballot-box

SOUTH AFRICA'S government and the African National Congress (ANC) battled and failed last night to persuade the right-wing Freedom Alliance (FA), led by Inkatha and the Afrikaner Volksfront, to abandon their threats of war and take part in the April elections.

Government and ANC negotiators had said that if they did not reach agreement by midnight, they never would. But the talks broke up last night with all participants saying they would continue negotiations, although an agreement looks increasingly unlikely at this stage.

The 'trilaterals' have been proceeding almost without interruption since the new constitution was drawn up, without the blessing of the FA, last November. The FA wants the constitution changed to make greater provision for regional self-determination, or, they say, they will boycott the elections. The government/ANC axis has agreed in principle to make constitutional amendments but agreement has not been reached on the details.

The talks have been portrayed, especially by the FA, as a local version of the Cuban missile crisis: unless one side blinks, destruction is mutually assured. But, aside from the question of scale, the difference is that neither side knows exactly what the other's destructive capacity is.

Every South African political leader of note has in the last year talked about possible civil war. F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela have done so with trepidation; Mangosu thu Buthelezi, the Inkatha leader, with the quivering relish of a man who likes to summon up the memory of his warrior Zulu forebears; General Constand Viljoen, the leader of the Volksfront, with the solemnity of a man who knows about war; and Eugene Terre-Blanche, the Volksfront coalition's favourite orator, with the religious zeal of a medieval crusader.

The threat of war is the only bargaining card the FA has, their combined national support standing at 10 per cent of the population, their international support (barring a late entry by Vladimir Zhirinov sky) at zero. How great the threat depends almost entirely on the security forces. As in Russia during the crises experienced first by Mikhail Gorbachev and then Boris Yeltsin, the army and, to a lesser extent, the police hold the key to South Africa's political destiny.

The army high command have undergone something of a transformation in the last 12 months, having been persuaded, in talks with their counterparts in the ANC, that their jobs and pensions will be assured under a Mandela presidency.

But a report in an Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, Rapport, claimed that up to 60 per cent of the security forces would not take action against the right wing if instructed to do so by the government. The fear is that while the chief of the South African Defence Force, General Georg Meiring, has gone along with the new constitutional order, he could face a rebellion in the ranks.

The evidence of recent months has been that the police are not providing the Inkatha warriors with the unconditional support they enjoyed during the township conflicts of recent years. Yesterday, for example, an Inkatha loyalist was found guilty in a Durban court of the murder of eight ANC supporters.

The one thing certain is that the government is worried. Yesterday the Minister of Defence, Kobie Coetsee, said that the intelligence services had told Mr de Klerk last week that the security situation was 'extremely volatile'. The most likely shape 'armed resistance' would take, ANC and government officials say privately, is terrorism. The question, they add, is whether such violence might undermine free and fair elections.

It was precisely because neither Mr Mandela nor Mr de Klerk knows the answer to that question that last night ANC and government negotiators were trying for the umpteenth time to prevail upon the right-wing minority to pursue war by electoral means.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Divers at Bouldnor Cliff underwater site in the Solent off the Isle of Wight, where the silt sample containing the einkorn DNA was found
life
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower