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Pretoria and ANC unite against extremists

THE South African government and the African National Congress ended three days of talks yesterday with strengthened resolve to work closely together towards a speedy democratic settlement in the face of efforts by parties on the political extremes to undermine negotiations.

Political manoeuvrings this week by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and an alleged terror campaign against whites by the military wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress have acted as a cement for the government and the ANC. Mindful, too, that the economy will continue on a downward spiral until stability is restored, sources at the talks said, each grasps the necessity of standing firmly together on the centre ground of South African politics.

A joint statement yesterday evening by the Minister of Constitutional Development, Roelf Meyer, and the ANC secretary-general, Cyril Ramaphosa, who headed the delegations, provided the most upbeat message in several months from the country's two major political players.

'The meeting,' the statement said, 'was approached in the context of the recognition that although they have different and often contradictory policies, there is a shared responsibility to ensure that a multi-party negotiated transformation from the present situation to a democracy must take place rapidly.'

The two sides said that they would meet again formally next month but meanwhile discussions would proceed on an 'ongoing basis with a view to ensuring effective conclusion of understandings in order to facilitate the negotiating process'.

Sniping from the sidelines, seeking to undermine this new-found harmony and delay the democratic process, are Inkatha and the PAC's Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla). Both have been condemned this week by the government and the ANC.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Inkatha leader, came in for sharp criticism from the government this week for the first time since F W de Klerk came to power. Three separate statements, the last from Mr de Klerk, highlighted government displeasure at Chief Buthelezi's proposal on Wednesday for a autonomous state in the KwaZulu-Natal region.

The South African President warned Inkatha on Wednesday that such unilateral initiatives were incompatible with agreements that constitutional reform should be the outcome of multi-party talks; that they could disrupt efforts to resume multi-party negotiations; and that they could cause violence to escalate.

Perhaps the most significant political development of the week, the rift between the government and Inkatha, could signal the demise of what most observers saw only two months ago as an electoral alliance in-waiting. More, the government and the ANC are expressing - quite without precedent - similar views on Inkatha.

An ANC statement on Thursday echoed, if at shriller pitch, much of what Mr de Klerk had said. 'The IFP's proposal, its timing and manner of presentation could have the effect of exacerbating tensions in this trouble-torn province,' the ANC said.

In their responses to two terrorist attacks in the past week against whites, the ANC and the government have expressed similar outrage. A gun and hand-grenade attack on a golf-club party in King William's Town last Saturday in which four died, and for which Apla claimed responsibility, was described by the ANC as 'an outrageous act of naked terrorism'.

On Thursday night a bomb went off in a restaurant in Queenstown, near King William's Town, injuring 19 white people. The suspicion yesterday was that Apla might have been responsible. The ANC said the bombing was 'the work of desperadoes' and should be 'condemned by all'. Mr de Klerk expressed 'tremendous shock' yesterday and said: 'We will not stand terrorism.'