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S. Africa Reform Talks Stumble on Constitution

Government seeks way to ensure minority say on key provisions

FEARS of renewed civil unrest are growing after negotiations for a democratic constitution stalled on the key issue of majority rule at a weekend summit in Johannesburg.

The second full session of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) - the multiracial forum crafting the transition from apartheid to democracy - failed to finalize plans for an interim government and constitution, decide the form of an elected national assembly, and set a timetable for elections.

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"Nothing concrete has emerged," said African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela at a news conference after the talks. "The negotiation process has stalled and it is urgently necessary to revive it."

Collapse of CODESA was averted late on the first day of talks Friday when Mr. Mandela approached President Frederik de Klerk and suggested they meet to rescue the negotiating process.

Tensions had reached a breaking-point Friday after a deadlock in the key constitutional committee delayed the plenary session by seven hours. The dispute centered on the form of an elected national assembly that will draw up the constitution in the second phase of the transition. What size majority?

The ruling National Party sought a special majority of 75 percent for taking constitutional decisions. National Party officials said that if they were to agree to an ANC's proposal of 70 percent, there must be an upper house or senate in which they would be disproportionately represented. Either arrangement would allow them to block constitutional provisions the party opposed.

All parties agreed that passage of a fundamental bill of rights should require a 75 percent majority. But parties could not agree whether constitutional provisions pertaining to regional matters required a 75 percent majority.

Under the government's proposal, even if the ANC won 60 percent of the vote in a democratic election it would have difficulty pushing through constitutional proposals.

Western diplomats praised Mandela's act of statesmanship and largely endorsed the claim of ANC negotiators that the government was not yet ready to relinquish political power.

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"But much preparatory work has been done and the stage is set for a deal in the near future," a Western diplomat says.

Outstanding issues are now due to be settled by re-styled committees and endorsed by a third plenary session of CODESA before the end of June. Delay and violence

But there is concern in political and diplomatic circles that unless the impasse is solved within weeks - rather than months - the negotiating process could founder as the arena for political conflict shifts from dialogue to the strife-torn townships.

Black leaders fear that the delay could fan political violence which is rendering political organization impossible in impoverished black townships where an average of 10 people a day are killed in civil unrest.

"None of us can control the violence any longer," says a distressed ANC official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The only winners from a delay in the negotiating process are those forces who are bent on sabotaging a negotiated settlement."

In a speech to the summit yesterday Mandela sounded a dire warning that the political violence in the country was spiraling out of control and a deepening economic recession had created a cycle of misery.

Mandela and President De Klerk agreed that the deadlock be referred to a multiparty committee, which manages the negotiating process, and legislation for an interim government be drafted by the end of June.

But Mandela insisted that the ANC had not shifted its position linking implementation of an interim government in the first phase of the transition to the form of an elected national assembly in the second phase.

The meeting was also unable to reach agreement on the timetable for the country's first democratic elections, which black leaders want to take place by the end of the year.

But a senior government official says that it would be more realistic to have the first phase of interim government in place by the end of this year and elections by the middle of next year.

Multiparty committees, which prepared the ground for the weekend summit, have made important progress toward consensus on the principle of regional government and the establishment of a system of proportional representation that will be based half on a national list and half on a regional list.

This compromise between the government's preference for a federal system and the ANC's preference for a unitary one persuaded representatives of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party to recommit themselves to the negotiating process.

But the agreed formula for rescuing the negotiating process could exacerbate tensions between ANC negotiators and an increasingly restive rank-and-file and between the ANC and more radical black groups in the so-called Patriotic Front.

Mandela told delegates from the floor: "We have been able to save CODESA and the peace process.... We are going back home full of strength and hope."

But 30 minutes later he read a statement of the Patriotic Front of ANC allies that said the talks had achieved nothing concrete and the process had stalled.

De Klerk denied that his government was trying to perpetuate white minority rule.

"When we say that the book on apartheid has been closed, we mean it," he said. "I declare with conviction today: We are ready to move forward. The time for powersharing has come."


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