Business chiefs try to halt SA's slide into chaos

JOHANNESBURG - Business leaders, fearing that South Africa's deadlock over progress towards democracy will bring social and economic disaster, yesterday said they would press political leaders to resume negotiations.

'We're seeking imaginative ways of getting the talks back on track,' said Johan Liebenberg, vice-chairman of the South African Coordinating Committee on Labour Affairs (Saccola).

Saccola, which includes leading employers such as the Chamber of Mines, met the biggest labour federation, the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Cosatu), last week to discuss how to halt the country's slide into chaos.

'We'd like to avert the national strike on 3 August,' said Mr Liebenberg. 'We might do something else instead, like hold joint peace and democracy rallies.

'The employers are in this initiative on a non-party political basis: we will be pushing politicians from all sides to get back to talks. We've got to do something.'

Cosatu, in alliance with the African National Congress and the Communist Party, has called the general strike next month as part of a campaign to force President FW de Klerk from power.

The ANC broke off talks on a non-racial constitution with Mr de Klerk and other parties last month after the Boipatong massacre, saying the government was responsible for township violence and was refusing to yield power.

The Sunday Times of Johannesburg published what it said were the minutes of an opposition alliance meeting which called for the strike in August to last seven days. Opposition spokesmen could not be contacted for comment.

A union representing hospital workers threatened on Saturday to paralyse the administrations of two provinces, Transvaal and the Orange Free State, because of the sacking of about 7,000 striking workers. The union said that if the workers were not reinstated by Friday, protesters would occupy administration buildings.

Peter Wrighton, chairman of one of South Africa's biggest corporations, Premier Group, said there was deep concern about escalating violence, the negotiations deadlock and the possible repercussions of mass protests.

'Business has a crucial role to play in supporting the process of establishing a non-racial democracy through negotiations,' Mr Wrighton wrote in the Sunday Times. 'An urgent solution is necessary before further disruptive measures are taken which could preclude all hope of an early settlement.'

The UN Security Council is to meet this week to discuss the crisis in South Africa. The Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, Nelson Mandela, the ANC president and other leaders are expected to attend.

Analysts said international involvement could help to bring the ANC and the government back to the negotiation table. They said the changing world order meant the ANC should not expect the automatic, unqualified UN support it might have received in the apartheid era.

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