THE focus of South Africa's deepening political crisis is swinging from pre-election violence to the arrival on April 12 of a high-powered team of seven international mediators.
The team - headed by former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Lord Carrington, the former British foreign secretary - is due to begin its mediation efforts on April 13.
The mediation is aimed at breaking the constitutional deadlock between the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, which is demanding greater regional autonomy for KwaZulu/Natal, and the African National Congress (ANC), the black liberation group expected to win outright in the April 26-28 poll.
Inkatha's election boycott is jeopardizing a free and fair outcome of the election in Natal Province.
ANC President Nelson Mandela on April 12 expressed optimism that the mediation would resolve the deadlock.
The mediators ``have a very difficult job indeed,'' Mr. Mandela conceded. ``But I hope ... that the state of emergency will now be effectively implemented. I hope we would not be forced to rely heavily on the security initiative ... and that dialogue will be the main instrument resolving the problems relating to KwaZulu/Natal.''
In a surprise move on April 12, the South African government agreed to become the third party to the mediation.
Election date sacrosanct
Frantic efforts were under way on April 12 to finalize the cumbersome terms of reference agreed to by Inkatha and ANC negotiators on April 10 that would accommodate the ruling National Party government. ``After the failure of the summit and the realization of the depth of the problems that still exist, we are prepared to walk the extra mile ... and if that means international mediation, then so be it,'' a spokesman for President Frederik de Klerk told the Monitor on April 12.
But both government and ANC spokesmen warned on April 12 that the election date was sacrosanct and could not be changed under any circumstances. ``We will not postpone our freedom,'' Mandela said.
The mediation team was due to meet Mr. De Klerk on April 12, but the mediators were tight-lipped about what they hoped to achieve. ``I hope we will be useful,'' Lord Carrington told reporters soon after his arrival. ``But it would be a very great mistake - when you arrive just off the airplane - to start talking about such matters.''
Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Mandela agreed on March 1 to involve international mediators in the deadlock between the two parties. Constitutional and Development Deputy Minister Fanus Schoeman said on April 12 that the mediation should revolve around the guaranteeing of a free and fair election as there was no time to renegotiate the interim constitution before the election.
Sara Pienaar, director of the South African Institute for International Affairs, says the mediators' best chance of success is to negotiate an agreement that could be implemented after the election and underwritten by the international community.
Senior Inkatha negotiator Joe Matthews told the Monitor that mediators of the stature of Dr. Kissinger and Lord Carrington could take the political initiative out of the South African parties' hands and create its own momentum. ``Dr. Kissinger will lose no time in simplifying the terms of reference and knocking some heads together,'' he said. ``Given the standing of those involved, it is going to be very difficult to ignore whatever proposals they make.''
Inkatha is insisting that if the mediators are able to broker a compromise between Inkatha and the ANC on the degree of autonomy for KwaZulu/Natal, the election date would have to be delayed to allow time for the agreement to be implemented and for the Inkatha to prepare for the election.
Diplomats and government officials say that Inkatha could probably still be included in the poll if agreement were reached, but this would have to be accomplished within the next 48 hours.
Skeptical about mediation
Western diplomats, the South African government, and even some ANC officials have been highly skeptical about mediation efforts to resolve sharp differences between the ANC and Inkatha. The conflict has led to unprecedented levels of political violence and emergency rule in strife-torn Natal.
But the mediation efforts were given a major boost on April 8 following a failed summit between Mandela, De Klerk, Chief Buthelezi, and the Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini. In a joint statement after the troubled summit, Inkatha, the ANC, and the government agreed that international mediation should proceed and that urgent talks should be held to reach agreement on the terms of reference for the mediators.
``South Africans may live to regret the intervention of these mediators,'' said Inkatha's Joe Matthews. ``Or ... the mediators will come up with a face-saving formula that everyone can accept.''