South African talks survive sabre-rattling abuse and bluster: Plans for democratic elections within a year remain on course after an eventful day of multi-party negotiations

CIRCUITOUS speeches, sabre-rattling and futile semantic debate conveyed the illusion of no progress at multi-party constitutional talks yesterday, but delegates of the main parties said the day's events boded well for plans to hold South Africa's first democratic elections in the next year.

The fact, as government and African National Congress officials noted afterwards, was that 26 parties representing virtually every point of view on the political spectrum had met and, no blood having been spilt, had agreed to meet again. Business, which was originally scheduled to last two days, was wrapped up in one.

The radical Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) and the far-right Conservative Party exchanged invective, the government blustered, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC strained to keep up civil appearances, the likes of the Dikwankwetla Party and the United People's Front (whose slogan is 'Love and Peace') enjoyed a rare day in the sun and, in a favourite negotiator's phrase, the process remained on course.

The fear was that the Conservative Party, and perhaps Inkatha, might jump ship: they might refuse to persist with negotiations unless two demands they share were met, namely that the ANC's and PAC's armed wings should be disbanded and that agreement should be reached on a federal system of government for 'the new South Africa'.

But both issues were referred for discussion to a newly-constituted 'negotiating council', a sort of negotiations cabinet which, it was unanimously agreed, would from now on meet four days a week.

The most significant part of the day's business was discharged in the first hour when agreement was reached - again unanimously - on all the technical procedures, numbers of delegates in each forum and suchlike, that will apply in future negotiations. Disputes, all also agreed, would be resolved on the basis of 'sufficient consensus', a concept which all parties struggled to define but which has appeared, in practice, to work.

Point two on yesterday's agenda was what to call the new negotiations body. Last year it was the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa). The ANC wanted the name to be retained, but some of the parties who only joined the process this year and others who did not like the tentative deals Codesa struck, such as Inkatha, wanted a change. In total, 10 new names were proposed - Nefsa; Codesa/Nefsa; Sacof; Cofsa; Conedsa; Conesad; Decosa; Mpcc; Mpdc and Negosa.

A ballot was proposed but, in the absence of sufficient consensus, the issue was referred to the negotiating council.

Violence, which everyone agreed was the principal obstacle to democratic change, was the next issue, and the one on which everyone insisted on having a say. After four hours of speech-making, in which the objective was more to score political points than substantially to address the conundrum, it was again decided to refer the matter to the negotiating council - which, it emerged during the course of the day, is South Africa's transitional government in waiting.

It was important, nevertheless, for the politicians to let off steam, especially the white politicians. Whites have been killed in politically motivated attacks recently and, though far more blacks die in such incidents every day, both the National Party government and the Conservative Party had to be seen to be addressing the terrors of their constituencies.

Hernus Kriel, the Minister of Law and Order, said it was imperative 'to bring down the level of violence to an acceptable level'. The Minister of Manpower, Leon Wessels, called into question the seriousness of the PAC's participation in talks when its armed wing, the shadowy Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), was claiming responsibility for some of the white deaths. The Conservative Party's Schalk Pienaar called for the 'suspension of negotiations with the murder machines'.

The PAC's information secretary, Barney Desai, said for his part that the South African security forces had been involved in 2,000 times more complaints, 900 times more prosecutions and 200 times more convictions than Apla.

(Photograph omitted)

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