Nail-biting contest ends in a victory for teamwork: John Carlin in Johannesburg watched the process of compromised during which South Africa's negotiating council agreed on a date for democratic elections

(First Edition)

A SUCCESSFUL proposal at the beginning of the year by the South African Communist Party for proceedings at the 26-party constitutional negotiating council to be open to the press was greeted by local editorial writers as a victory for democracy.

The reporters assigned to cover the talks have often had cause to wonder whether, in certain circumstances, democracy is altogether a good thing. Progress has been exasperatingly slow, hopes of front-page stories heralding 'major breakthroughs' continually having been dashed by deliberately fussy delegates representing parties with no interest in abandoning the privileges acquired under apartheid.

On Thursday night, however, the press box was treated to two hours of debate as nail-bitingly intense as an FA Cup semi-final. Would negotiators agree on an election date or, in failing to do so, add more confusion and delay to a tortuous task? Outside factors added to the tension - impossible deadlines loomed, not only for the reporters but also for the two star players: Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary-general of the African National Congress, and Roelf Meyer, the Minister of Constitutional Development. That night the two were expected to attend a banquet jointly to receive a 'Man of the Year' award before flying off together to the United States at 10pm to accept a similar honour.

As it turned out, it was a game of two halves. The ANC, their allies and the parliamentary Democratic Party pushed to fix a date but met stiff resistance from Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party and their allies in the black homelands and the white right. Mr Meyer caused some consternation in Mr Ramaphosa's camp by proposing that a decision be deferred for 10 days.

But in the second half, with half an hour left to play, Mr Meyer again tilted the balance by clarifying that he favoured setting the date that night. Then, in injury time, diners at the 'Man of the Year' event anxiously picking at their desserts, Mr Ramaphosa appeared out of nowhere and slotted home the winner - clinching the support even of Inkatha with a subtly worded proposal that had the effect of sealing 27 April 1994 as the historic day when South Africans will vote together for the first time.

In a concession to authoritarianism to which few but the passengers on the jumbo jet would have objected, the flight to New York was delayed and the two men described by some as the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of South African politics made both their appointments.

Mr Ramaphosa's compromise was to propose that the date be finalised at a negotiating council meeting on 15 June. But he knew that the small print would make little impact either in the local media or in the consciousness of the wider public. He calculated that for the spoilers at the talks - seven out of the 26 on a bad day - the political price of rejecting the electoral timetable at that next meeting would simply prove too high.

The significance of having set the election date is more than symbolic, although the value of allowing the ANC leadership to persuade their township rank-and-file that a political victory has been won should not be underestimated in terms of the possibilities of minimising unrest.

Agreement on the date will set in motion a number of important political dynamics. Dates will have to be set for the establishment, as agreed by the government and the ANC, of Transitional Executive Councils, multi-party bodies which will exercise joint control over those organs of state whose impartiality is essential for the holding of free and fair elections. The TECs will, among other things, oversee parts of the national budget, the appointment of an independent electoral commission and, critically, the role of the armed forces - including the ANC's, Inkatha's and the various homelands' militias. In short, some months before the elections new democratic structures will have substantially modified the racist tendencies of the government apparatus.

The indications are that, while dangerously recalcitrant elements remain, the South African Defence Force has come around to the inevitability of democracy, to the irreversibility of what the pundits call 'the process of transition'. Last week, the chief of the army, Lieutenant-General Georg Meiring, held talks at a secret venue in Pretoria with Joe Modise, his counterpart in the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Under discussion were the possible integration of their armies - a previously verboten subject in the SADF high command - and, more immediately, the future relationship between the TEC politicians and the men with the guns.

If, in future meeetings, the SADF and the ANC agree to a far-reaching set of proposals hammered out by a special committee advising the negotiating council, the country's various armed formations will submit to an audit of all weapons and personnel and eventually, after an elected government is in place, to unification under one national banner.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss