Tussling still lies ahead on SA poll date: Multi-party negotiators aim at 27 April next year for first democratic elections

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The Independent Online
HARD bargaining still lies ahead to finalise 27 April next year as the date for South Africa's first democratic elections, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the parliamentary Conservative Party and the five other right-wing groupings at yesterday's talks made clear. All are wary of elections and are eager to entrench their power constitutionally as far as possible before voters go to the polls and elect, as is generally predicted, the ANC as the predominant force in a government of national unity.

But the ANC's secretary-general and chief negotiator, Cyril Ramaphosa, was confident after the meeting ended last night that the right- wing factions would be unable to block the momentum that would be generated by the announcement of the date. Backed by the government's chief negotiator, Roelf Meyer, he was the driving force behind the decision, agreed by 17 of the 26 parties at the talks, to opt for 27 April 1994.

'Those opposed to the election date will find it impossible to move the masses of this country into changing the date,' Mr Ramaphosa said.

The right-wing factions argued that key issues such as political violence and regional devolution of power had to be resolved before an election could be contemplated. What won the day in the end was a compromise proposal from Mr Ramaphosa for ratification of the 27 April date to be subject to Inkatha and its allies obtaining satisfaction that their concerns would be allayed. It was Mr Ramaphosa who proposed 15 June as the date 'to finalise' agreement, before it goes for endorsement to a gathering of party leaders on 25 June.

Nothing is set in stone, of course, and in the coming months it is not impossible that the dates might be changed. However, in a country where, more than most, politics operate at the level of symbols and perceptions, the ANC's vast black constituency will be swiftly persuaded to interpret last night's resolution as a major political victory. Indeed, Mr Meyer and other government negotiators, as well as numerous white South Africans, will share in the ANC's satisfaction - especially those in the business community craving an indication that the country might become sufficiently politically stable to encourage investment.

But it was the ANC more than anybody, especially Mr Ramaphosa's negotiating team, who needed an election date particularly urgently. They have been under intense pressure to deliver amid growing frustrations in the ANC rank-and-file over the slowness of progress in talks - especially after the assassination of ANC leader Chris Hani in April this year, when Mr Mandela managed to prevent the passions of ANC supporters from spilling over into anarchy with a promise of a prompt announcement of an election date.

Adding to the urgency now, next week the National Executive Committee of the ANC meets in full session and failure to make progress on a date would have reinforced the arguments of radicals pushing for escalated street protests.

A critical date also looms. Soweto Day, 16 June, is the anniversary of the student uprising of 1976, an event always marked by ANC demonstrations. On the announcement or otherwise of an election date hinge, ANC officials said, whether the event would turn out to be peaceful and celebratory or dangerously confrontational. It is no accident that Mr Ramaphosa proposed 15 June as the date for the multi-party negotiators finally to reach agreement on the election date.

History was also made earlier in the day when negotiators began drafting what amounts to South Africa's first democratic constitution. After painstaking examination of each constitutional clause, delegates agreed, among other things, that South Africa would embrace multi-party democracy, universal adult suffrage and a political system prohibiting racial and all other forms of discrimination.