Next Step : New Spirit of Reconciliation Is Moving in South Africa : The changing atmosphere is clear as the government and at least 19 political organizations prepare for talks on democratization.


Frederik and Marike de Klerk scan the Bible each year for just the right words for their Christmas card, searching for a passage that most clearly sums up their guiding principle for the new year.

This year, the devout South African president and his wife found that message in the Book of Job: “Let us then examine for ourselves what is right; let us together establish the true good.”

A similar message of compromise and reconciliation is being heard all across South Africa this Yuletide season, from blacks and whites, capitalists and Communists, farmers and urbanites, maids and madams.

The new spirit has emerged as more than 200 black and white representatives of at least 19 political organizations prepare for the opening this Friday and Saturday of the historic Convention for a Democratic South Africa at the World Trade Center in Johannesburg.


De Klerk’s zest for reform has led this country through 22 months of political awakening and unprecedented violence, kindling optimism among South African blacks and fear among many whites.

Now the president’s groundwork has been laid. The “talks about talks” are over. And the long-awaited formal negotiations on the future, the grandest indaba (meeting) in South Africa’s history, are ready to begin removing the grip of white-minority domination and extending a vote to 28 million blacks.

Left-wing blacks are boycotting the talks, arguing that their demand for a transfer of power from De Klerk to the black majority is not negotiable. Right-wing whites also are staying away, refusing to even discuss their demand for a separate white state with the “Communists and anti-Christians” in the African National Congress.

But the 55-year-old De Klerk and his 73-year-old rival, African National Congress President Nelson Mandela, are committed to bridging decades of racial enmity and finding a solution together. And neither the radical left nor the radical right can stop those negotiations as long as the government and ANC remain at the table.


“I spoke to the president . . . and he’s very positive and convinced that what he’s doing is right,” said De Klerk’s pastor, Rev. Pieter Bingle, in Cape Town.

Mandela also has high hopes for the negotiations, having recently told the U.N. General Assembly that a new constitution for South Africa could be ready in a year.

The two-day convention, already being called by its acronym, CODESA, will formally launch a new era of lengthy, difficult negotiations with an open session under the chairmanship of two judges--Ismail Mahomed, South Africa’s first black judge, and Petrus Schabort.

Joining the government, the ruling National Party, the ANC and the Communist Party in the hall will be delegations from a variety of less-powerful political groups, including the Inkatha Freedom Party of Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi and the liberal white Democratic Party. Also attending will be leaders of the four nominally independent black homelands and the five self-governing homelands.


Although it is being enthusiastically welcomed across most of South Africa, the convention is only a symbolic first step toward a new constitution, on which the government and the ANC still have major, seemingly insurmountable differences.

After speeches by the participants this week, CODESA delegates plan to issue two important declarations setting the tone for the negotiations. The first will be a statement of general constitutional principles, on which the government and the ANC already have reached substantial agreement. Both major players share a desire for a united, non-racial South Africa with a bill of rights, a vote for all, separation of powers, a multi-party democracy, regular elections and an independent judiciary.

The second declaration will be an agreement by the government to abide by and implement the decisions of CODESA. De Klerk has indicated his willingness to honor CODESA agreements, but he says those that require changes in the law will have to be approved first by the National Party-controlled Parliament, which opens its 1992 session Jan. 24.

ANC negotiators say that promise from the government is important because it will help resolve lingering doubts about De Klerk’s sincerity among rank-and-file ANC members.


Then, CODESA will appoint working groups to study each item on its agenda. Those working groups, meeting behind closed doors next year, will do the horse-trading on the important first steps in the constitution-making process.

The most difficult negotiations will revolve around two questions--who will draft and adopt the new constitution, and what sort of transitional government should run the country in the interim.

ANC leaders strongly believe that the constitution must be written by a democratically elected body, and they support a one-person, one-vote national election for a “constituent assembly” of constitution drafters as soon as possible.

Government negotiators just as strongly oppose that, arguing that holding an election this early in the process will tie parties to constitutional platforms and rob them of the flexibility needed for successful negotiations. Instead, De Klerk and his negotiators want CODESA itself to write the new constitution, which could then be put to a national vote.


No acceptable compromise has thus far been advanced to clear that hurdle, and ANC leaders worry that the government’s reluctance to schedule an early election suggests an unwillingness to relinquish power. “We would like to get to the point where democratic elections are held as soon as possible, and we think that should be the clear priority of everyone,” said Mohammed Valli Moosa, a key member of the ANC’s negotiating team.

“We are concerned that they (De Klerk’s negotiators) have not yet psychologically accepted the reality of democratic rule,” Moosa added. “What we are not prepared to compromise on is the need for a democratically elected body to draft and adopt a constitution. CODESA is not a democratic body.”

The makeup and tenure of a transitional government is another area of disagreement. De Klerk has said he is willing to bring blacks into an interim government, but he would like to maintain control during a 5- to 10-year transition period.

The ANC appears willing to compromise on the shape of the interim administration, but it envisions a much shorter life span for the body, arguing that the transition to a democratically elected government should take no longer than 18 months.


Nevertheless, the government, the ANC and the other parties all are under pressure to reach agreement. And delegates have been heartened by the atmosphere of compromise evident in preliminary talks leading up to the convention.

“Everyone’s very upbeat, and there’s a great feeling of cooperation,” said Peter Soal, a CODESA delegate from the liberal Democratic Party.

“The road ahead may be a bit rocky,” Soal added. “There will be walkouts. People will huff and puff. But in the end they’ll just have to sort it out because there’s no alternative.”

CODESA’s decisions will be made by the principle of “sufficient consensus,” which, in effect, means agreement between the government and the ANC, the two most powerful participants.


Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party, which says it has 2.2 million members, mostly Zulus in Natal province, remains another important factor.

Although it has in the past been closely linked with the government, with which it shares a commitment to a free-market economy, Inkatha already has shown an independent streak. In a preliminary round of talks earlier this month, for example, Inkatha opposed a government proposal that CODESA be chaired by the participants in rotation. But the ANC, supported by Inkatha, prevailed with its proposal that two South African judges chair the talks.

Inkatha’s role in township violence, which has pitted Inkatha-supporting Zulus against ANC-supporting township residents, has given the organization a high profile in South African politics over the last two years. Still, most CODESA delegates say that has not translated into power at the bargaining table.

“There are only two parties who can make this work--the ANC and the government,” one CODESA delegate said. “Each has an effective veto. Inkatha doesn’t have the power to bring it to a halt. But they do have the power to delay it.”


The negotiation process has thus far been relatively smooth, although “painfully slow,” according to Soal, of the Democratic Party.

Committees hashing out the technical details of CODESA have been sitting late into the night, Soal said, adding that “when you’ve got 20 different organizations represented, each wants to have a say on whether there should be one microphone or two.”

Although negotiators believe CODESA will be a success with or without every political group in South Africa at the table, they are nevertheless concerned by the refusal of left-wing black groups and right-wing white groups to join the talks.

On the left, the Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO) has gained some support among radical blacks by declining its invitation. AZAPO contends that the ANC has abandoned its principles by negotiating with the government and is now in league with De Klerk.


“The country is now witnessing a new alliance between the old (white) bosses and a new induna class,” AZAPO President Pandelani Nefolovhodwe said recently. (In traditional African society, an induna was the village headman, appointed by the chief.)

A similar claim has been made by the more powerful Pan-Africanist Congress, which entered into a “patriotic front” with the ANC in October but recently charged that the ANC was making secret deals with the government. Both the ANC and government deny the allegations, but they acknowledge that certain questions, such as the date and site for CODESA, have been worked out in joint consultations.

PAC leaders walked out of preparatory talks earlier this month, saying they needed to ask PAC members whether to continue to participate. The rank and file, meeting in Cape Town, decided Monday to refuse their invitation to CODESA on the grounds that the gathering will be “undemocratic.”

Perhaps the most worrying CODESA absentees, though, will De Klerk’s right-wing opponents. The Conservative Party, which is supported by at least 25% of the country’s white voters, has refused to attend. Other right-wing groups with less support but more militant rhetoric, including the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), are also staying away.


The rightists, bristling at the suggestion that they negotiate the white Afrikaner’s future with black leaders, say they will not join talks unless the government agrees, in advance, to carve out a separate white state for them.

An AWB delegation stormed out of a meeting with the government last week when Gerrit Viljoen, De Klerk’s minister of constitutional development, said their demand for a white state would be considered only if they raised it during the sittings of CODESA.

After the meeting, AWB Secretary General Piet Rudolph said it was clear that the only way the government would recognize the right of Afrikaners to govern themselves would be “through the barrel of a gun.”

“This is just what I expected,” Rudolph said. “We must prepare for war. And we are in for a hell of a fight.”


The right-wing militants present a delicate dilemma for De Klerk. He can use the rightist threat to extract concessions, such as built-in constitutional protections for the white minority, from the ANC. But if the rightists act on their threats, they could make the country ungovernable, no matter who is in power.

“If the government fails to carry the right wing along, we could end up with a very rebellious group of people who could cause a lot of damage to the country,” said Moosa, of the ANC. “We want whites to accept the outcome of negotiations and to have as little grounds as possible to resort to violence.”