SA right wing stalls for more time to register

UTTER political confusion, rioting and rubber bullets marked what was supposed to be the final day yesterday on which South Africa's political parties decided whether to participate next month in the first democratic elections.

According to the rules of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the body officially running the elections, parties which failed to register a list of candidates by 4.30pm local time yesterday would be automatically disqualified from the 26 April poll.

But while the Afrikaner Volksfront, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the embattled government of Bophuthatswana - members all of the tripartite Freedom Alliance - did not meet the deadline, the indications from the IEC last night were that an extension might yet be approved.

Nelson Mandela, for one, proposed this as an option amid signs of profound uncertainty within Alliance ranks as to the strategy they should adopt in the face of an election whose outcome they all fear.

The rioting occurred in the purportedly independent 'homeland' of Bophuthatswana. A week-long strike by civil servants erupted into violent clashes this week after President Lucas Mangope announced that Bophuthatswana would not take part in the elections. Yesterday morning at least 32 people were injured after police opened fire with birdshot on supporters of the African National Congress in the town of Mafikeng.

The rubber bullets flew in Messina, in the Northern Transvaal, when police sought to disperse a crowd of stone- throwing ANC demonstrators gathered to protest against an election campaign appearance by President F W de Klerk. 'This underscores once again the lack of discipline of the ANC,' Mr de Klerk told reporters. 'I welcome the promises made by Mr Mandela and others that they will discipline their followers. But it is apparent they have not succeeded yet.'

General Constand Viljoen, the leader of the Afrikaner Volksfront, was also struggling to keep his followers in harness. On Friday the general, a former chief of the South African Defence Force, decided without consulting all the leaders of his organisation, to register a party he called the Freedom Front for the elections. On Saturday he was heckled, abused and finally overruled at a meeting of the Volksfront's leadership council, all of whom are united on the one question of the desirability of creating a separate Afrikaner state, a volkstaat.

But on Monday General Viljoen met at a secret venue with the pragmatic minority of Volksfront leaders who believe the strategy to pursue is electoral participation, to prove support among Afrikaners for secession. Yesterday the general and his allies came tantalisingly close to breaking away from the hardliners.

Representatives of the new Freedom Front turned up before the IEC just minutes before the deadline to register candidates. But instead of going ahead and handing in the expected document, they negotiated with the IEC for an extension of the deadline. General Viljoen, interviewed on television last night, largely evaded the questions thrown at him but indicated he had decided to follow the approach adopted by the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Chief Buthelezi decided yesterday afternoon after a meeting of his party's central committtee to put off submitting his list of candidates. In a statement, Inkatha said it was leaving the door open for participation pending international mediation to resolve outstanding constitutional differences with the government and the ANC. Both Chief Buthelezi and General Viljoen, however, are attempting to promote the idea - in the face of stiff opposition from the government and the ANC - of postponing the election date.

JOHANNESBURG - Political killings in South Africa fell for the seventh month in a row last month, the Human Rights Commission said yesterday, Reuter reports. 'The average daily death toll dipped below nine . . . and now seems headed back to the level of six per day which was prevalent this time last year, and a far cry from the level of 20 per day during last July.'