Right in talks on SA constitution

THE DEBATE on South Africa's new constitution which opened in parliament yesterday was a sideshow to the behind-the-scenes negotiations to convince the country's right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront movement and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party to join the transition to democracy.

Parliament was scheduled to hold marathon sessions until next week's final vote on the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Bill, whose approval would mark the end of apartheid. But if negotiations with Inkatha and the Volksfront failed to make a breakthrough before the recess, parliament could be called into session in January to consider additional amendments to the constitution.

The real brokering, however, was taking place outside parliament, as the National Party government of President F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), the main movers of the new constitution, sought to avert a final rejection by the Volksfront and Inkatha, the key members of the Freedom Alliance. The Alliance's demands include: replacement of the proposed single ballot system with two ballots - one for national and one for regional governments - in the April general elections; and a promise to consider an autonomous Afrikaner state, a Volkstaat, as well as special privileges for black-run homelands such as Chief Buthelezi's KwaZulu. Both the Volksfront and Inkatha have threatened violence should their demands not be met.

The ANC and the National Party have insisted that the Freedom Alliance commit itself to participating in next year's elections before they will consider big changes to the interim constitution. The Alliance has rejected that notion, however, arguing that its only leverage behind its demands is the threat to boycott the multi-racial polls on 27 April and embark on armed resistance.

Inkatha's members of parliament in Cape Town have professed optimism that a deal could still be struck but Chief Buthelezi and the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, called on Zulus to fight the 'plot' to destroy the nominally autonomous KwaZulu government.

The Volksfront leader, General Constand Viljoen, admitted there was little time to reach an accord before next week, but said parliament could be called into session in January if need be. While General Viljoen has threatened violence in pursuit of a Volkstaat, he said he was 'committed to the most peaceful way'.