THE South African Parliament convenes today to approve a package of changes to the interim constitution, but the hopes of securing peaceful elections rest in a smaller, more highly charged forum.
The country's two major black rivals, African National Congress President Nelson Mandela and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, are scheduled to meet tomorrow in a last-ditch effort to avert a boycott of the elections by the Zulu-based Inkatha, a move that political analysts say could lead to a massive escalation of pre-poll violence.
In a three-day session, Parliament is expected to approve changes to the interim constitution that political scientists and Western diplomats say meet 29 out of 33 Inkatha demands and tilt the document toward a federal state in which the powers of central government would be offset by semi-autonomous provinces.
The ANC and government offered the concession on Feb. 14 after a four-week impasse with the Freedom Alliance (FA), a coalition of white right-wing and conservative black groups including Inkatha that is demanding Afrikaner and Zulu homelands.
In recent weeks it has become apparent that Chief Buthelezi intends to boycott the country's first all-race elections on April 27-29 rather than risk a humiliating defeat by the ANC in his own stronghold of KwaZulu/Natal - the name given to Natal province and the fragmented Zulu homeland.
Western diplomats and peace monitors concede that an all-out boycott by Inkatha supporters in Natal Province could lead to an escalation of the low-grade civil war between Inkatha and ANC supporters there, which could result in a substantial stay-away by black voters.
The massacre of 15 youths in Natal on Feb. 19 and the death of at least 30 others in political violence over the same weekend has led to a flurry of political activity. The Zulus, more than half of whom live in Natal province, are the country's largest tribe, numbering around 9 million.