Pretoria sets out timetable for transition

FROM A distance, a small protest march on the South African parliament yesterday suggested that the African National Congress had reneged on its promise to call off such demonstrations this year, the rationale being that all energies should now be concentrated on preparing for elections.

Closer inspection revealed that, in a sign of the times, the demonstrators were all white, fashionably dressed and politically non- aligned - croupiers and barmen, it turned out, expressing their displeasure at a government bill that came into effect at midnight on Sunday outlawing casinos in South Africa.

Inside parliament, meanwhile, the government was busy explaining a gamble it considers to be perfectly legitimate but whose wisdom, the polls show, an increasing number of whites doubt. The bet is that whites will cede power without losing political control.

Roelf Meyer, Minister of Constitutional Development and the government's chief negotiator, set out in more detail than ever before the timetable foreseen for the transition to a government representative of the entire population.

The resumption of multi-party talks - suspended since May - was expected by the end of this month, Mr Meyer told parliament. By the end of June a non- elected body called the Transitional Executive Council would be in place.

The TEC will be made up of representatives from all the major parties, black and white, and its task will be 'to level the playing- field' for free and fair elections.

Mr Meyer was at pains to stress that this was not a 'transitional government'. The serving executive would remain in place. However, the TEC would be formally bound to the government and its input on the role of the security forces, the state media and electoral mechanisms would be more than merely advisory.

'Its capacity for political intervention the government will not be able to ignore,' Mr Meyer told journalists.

The multi-party negotiators will aim to reach agreement on a transitional constitution - replacing the existing one - the object of which will be to adapt the law in such a way as to allow for all South Africans to vote in an election by April next year at the latest. (President F W de Klerk hinted on South African television on Sunday night that such an election might take place this year, depending on the degree to which political violence had been controlled.)

Voting will be for a body which will serve both as parliament and, as the phrase goes, 'constitution- making body'. This will be known as the transitional government and, as has already been agreed by the government and the ANC, it will not function on the majority- rule principle, but on the notion of power-sharing.

A number of obstacles remain, Mr Meyer said, including the devolution of regional powers and how exactly power will be apportioned both in the TEC and the transitional government.

Mr Meyer deftly defined the conundrum facing the government and the ANC. 'On the one hand we are negotiating partners engaged in drawing up the constitution and the rules of the game, and on the other we are political opponents in an election campaign. And once the elections are over, the major parties will in turn become joint rulers in terms of the concept of power-sharing.'

(Photograph omitted)