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Vote Talks in S. Africa Break Off

By Paul Taylor
The Washington Post


Talks aimed at persuading right-wing parties not to boycott April's all-races election broke off Monday night an hour after they began, deepening the gloom that has settled over South Africa's first democratic campaign.

With negotiations stalemated and threats of armed resistance by militant white conservatives increasing, top South African military commanders met with President Frederik W. de Klerk last week to voice concern about the loyalties of their white troops if they are called in to suppress right-wing violence. Roughly half of South Africa's full-time army and nearly all of its reservists and armed militia are white.

Monday night was supposed to produce the "final decision" on a constitutional settlement among the white-minority government, the African National Congress and the Freedom Alliance -- a coalition of white groups that oppose black-majority rule and parties from South Africa's black "homelands." The absolute deadline for parties to decide whether to place themselves on the ballot will not come until 10 days after de Klerk officially proclaims the April 27-29 election -- a step he must take before the end of February.

But with no sign of progress in the talks, with campaign events being marred by disruptions and intimidation, and with Zulu and Afrikaner separatist groups sounding bellicose, "there's a whiff of civil war back in the air again," said David Welch, a political scientist at the University of Cape Town.

The major anti-election forces, as well as the government and the ANC, have slightly different tactical interests in the talks, and all the parties involved have visible splits between hard-liners and compromisers within their ranks.

Those who seem most difficult to accommodate -- and most dangerous -- are the militant whites who are holding out for a separate ethnic state for Afrikaners. The government and the ANC reject creation of any ethnically based state but had hoped to persuade hard-line Afrikaners to participate in the elections by offering to create an advisory council that would look into other ways to satisfy their demands for self-determination.

When that proposal was shouted down Saturday by a gathering of 10,000 members of the Afrikaner Volksfront, retired general Constand Viljoen, an advocate of compromise, shifted to the militant camp. Monday night he said in a national television interview that "if the Afrikaner doesn't get his Volkstaat (white homeland) before the election, I don't see how there can be an election."

The Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, a leading force in the Freedom Alliance, also authorized its leaders last weekend to boycott the election. Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who is chief minister of the black homeland of KwaZulu, conceivably could use his 3,000-member KwaZulu police force to try to prevent balloting in his territory.