SOUTH AFRICA takes a significant stride on its inexorable march to majority rule today when a multiracial council, which will help govern the country until the first nonracial election on April 27, meets for the first time here.
``It will render the present Parliament a lame duck and symbolizes the end of white rule,'' says Prof. Marinus Wiechers, head of the constitutional law department at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, and a key adviser to multiparty negotiators on constitutional change.
``Formally, the new body is not taking over, but power will shift rapidly now away from the white minority to the majority,'' Professor Wiechers says.
The multiracial body, called the Transitional Executive Council, will act as a watchdog of the ruling National Party government and serve as a referee to ensure that no party enjoys an advantage over another in the run-up to the elections. The TEC meets as the white-dominated Parliament gathers for the last time to approve a package of laws - including an interim constitution and an Electoral Act - that will terminate the life of the current Parliament and trigger a complex transition to democracy.
Parliament, which is comprised of representatives of the white, Indian, and mixed-race minorities, no longer has the legitimacy to alter decisions taken by multiparty negotiators without their approval. But the institution of Parliament is still the only body that can confer legality on the new nonracial constitution.
The TEC meets against the backdrop of frantic last-minute efforts by the government and African National Congress (ANC) to secure an commitment from white right-wing parties and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party to take part in the TEC and the election in return for further constitutional changes that would increase regional autonomy.
The right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront and IFP, both members of the Freedom Alliance, are the major parties pushing for greater regional autonomy. Their leaders have hinted at civil disobedience and even civil war if their demands are not met. The FA is a coalition of right-wing white leaders and conservative black homeland leaders who boycotted the closing months of the multiparty talks but are reported to be close to an accord with the government.
Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has led the IFP boycott, is coming under increasing pressure within his own ranks to take part in the TEC and election.
In a speech on Dec. 3, Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini, who is seen as a captive of Chief Buthelezi's political hard line, appeared to criticize parties that had boycotted the multiparty talks, although he did not mention Buthelezi or the IFP.
``This could be the first move by the King to position himself in a more neutral and important role,'' says Oscar Dhlomo, a former IFP secretary-general who now heads the independent Institute for Multi-Party Democracy. ``I think the King would prefer to be in that kind of position, and ... members of the Zulu royal family have been putting pressure on him recently to distance himself from the IFP - particularly since it began flirting with right-wingers in the Freedom Alliance,'' he says.
Wiechers says the government and FA appeared close to an agreement that would extend powers of taxation to the nine provinces, list both exclusive and concurrent powers for the provinces, and subject regional constitutions to certification only by an independent constitutional court. He says it is also possible the government and ANC will grant the FA's demand for a separate vote for national and regional parties rather than the single-ballot system, which would force voters to choose the same party both nationally and regionally.
The liberal Democratic Party and political scientists have strongly condemned the single ballot as undemocratic and prejudicial to regional parties like the IFP. ``I am not comfortable with the single-ballot system,'' Wiechers says.