THREE-and-a-half years after his historic speech legalizing political dissent, President Frederik de Klerk's reforms are facing mounting resistance from an ascendant white right-wing and from conservative black leaders led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Chief Buthelezi withdrew his Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) team from negotiations last month and has threatened to boycott South Africa's first democratic elections, planned for April 1994. In two weeks, he goes to court in an attempt to invalidate the work of a multiparty negotiating forum that is guiding the country toward democratic rule, arguing that there has been a lack of "sufficient consensus."
The multiparty forum set next April 27 as the election date despite opposition from the IFP and right-wing parties of the Concerned South Africans Group (COSAG). The proposal was backed by 19 of the 26 parties represented.
The forum is due to finalize legislation within the next 10 days for a multiracial commission to govern the country until the elections. But IFP officials insist that they will not abide by laws initiated without their consent.
The result is that a negotiated settlement allowing for next April's first free and fair elections is now appearing more and more remote.
"De Klerk's dilemma is that he needs the African National Congress now to legitimize the process he has embarked upon but also needs the IFP as a future alliance partner - at least in Natal Province," says a Western diplomat close to the talks. "At present the ruling party lacks a serious black ally."
In recent weeks, opinion polls have shown that President De Klerk's National Party (NP) is losing supporters to the IFP and the recently formed right-wing umbrella body, the Afrikaner Volksfront (Afrikaner People's Front), led by former defense chief Gen. Constand Viljoen.
De Klerk recently reaffirmed the need for IFP support for a final deal on a transition to democracy in an apparent bid to prevent more NP legislators defecting to the IFP.
A poll published on Aug. 15 in the Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport shows 36 percent of Afrikaners support right-wing leaders while only 32 percent support De Klerk. The poll found that General Viljoen, who entered politics only five months ago, has 20 percent of Afrikaner support while extremist right-wing leader Eugene TerreBlanche has 10 percent. Ferdi Hartzenberg, the leader of the Conservative Party, which has withdrawn from multiparty talks, has 6.5 percent.
The Volksfront has succeeded in delaying government plans for integrating local councils, and has had a strong response to its calls for rural Afrikaners to join part-time commando structures and the police reserve.
Viljoen is mobilizing support for a semi-autonomous Afrikaner homeland whose powers and boundaries are finalized before an election. He is opposed to joint control of the security forces.
The coalition of right-wing party members, COSAG, has emerged as an increasingly coherent and formidable alliance despite divisions within its ranks about strategy and tactics. Diplomats and politicians are in broad agreement that an election boycotted by the COSAG parties would be counterproductive.
In a departure from recent speeches, ANC President Nelson Mandela on Aug. 19 acknowledged the growing right-wing threat and offered to hold direct talks with right-wing leaders.
"The right-wingers have followers within the police and the civil service who - on the creation of a democracy in South Africa - are going to be called on to fight.... They are very strong and regard the National Party as traitors," Mr. Mandela told a conference of the Transport and General Workers Union. He appealed to the right-wingers: "Let us bury the past."
Despite De Klerk's reaffirmation this week of his commitment to the election date, officials from both the government and ANC admitted publicly for the first time that sustained political violence could influence the timing of an election.
Buthelezi, who advocates an ethnic federation of states, says he is not prepared to enter into an election for a Constituent Assembly that would finalize a new constitution. He insists that the boundaries and powers of regional states should be settled first.
"We are not prepared to accept responsibility for the civil war which we know will be the consequence of allowing a Constituent Assembly to write our constitution," Buthelezi said at a news briefing on Saturday.
The government and the ANC have agreed tentatively on strong regional government in which regions would have autonomy in some areas of government. But they have not agreed precisely what powers the central government would retain. Critics of the ANC fear the government could use its likely majority in the Constituent Assembly to retain political power at the center and thus thwart a true federation.
Buthelezi says a final decision on taking part in the election would be taken at a special conference later in the year. He also rejects a proposal by De Klerk made on Aug. 18 to create a second negotiating front to seek agreement with the IFP so that progress at the multiparty talks would not be stalled.