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Inside the talks
Mandela: An angry man, taking a harder line than before. De Klerk: Under heavy pressure from abroad to get talks moving.
Inside the talks
Inside the talks

Nelson Mandela emerged from this week's showdown with the government over violence flying the political colours of a hard-line militant.

In lengthy meetings with President FW de Klerk, where the two leaders managed to break the political deadlock, there was none of the warm personal chemistry that has characterised interactions between them in the past.

Mandela, long held up as the African National Congress' leading moderate, is extremely angry at the government's inability or unwillingness to stop the carnage in the townships, and was particularly incensed at its pussy-footing over the issue of "traditional" weapons.

The ANC deputy president refused to see De Klerk this week until the draft outline of an agreement between the movement and Pretoria had been carefully prepared by his aides and was already on the table. The ANC set yesterday as the deadline for the government to take serious steps to end the violence, including meeting a series of tough demands, or it would abandon all talks with the government.

From the outset, Mandela took the lead inside the ANC in proposing the ultimatum and holding the government to meeting its demands. Mandela is said to be under extreme pressure in his personal life because of the trial of his wife, Winnie, on charges of kidnapping and assault, and is said to have been shocked by her overwhelming defeat for the presidency of the ANC Women's League in Kimberley.

Sources inside the ANC say Mandela has been appalled by the township violence and the failure of the police to contain it. Mandela is also aware that high noon is approaching for the ANC in the form of the July conference, where the leadership will be called to account by its members, many of whom are the victims of the violence in the townships.

Most of the credit for getting dialogue between the government and the ANC back on track and working out the outlines of a deal this week goes to southern Natal regional leader Jacob Zuma and Department of International Affairs head Thabo Mbeki. Others whose intervention was crucial were the church leaders including SA Council of Churches general secretary, the Rev Frank Chikane, whose last-minute intervention may have saved the day, and the British, American and German embassies who backed up the ANC in the broad thrust of its demands in the ultimatum.

Mandela has been in telephonic contact with American President George Bush and British Premier John Major. Despite the impression that has been created that De Klerk has won the diplomatic battle, the major Western countries were surprisingly tough in their insistence that De Klerk and his security forces could do far more to stop the violence.

The final draft of the agreement between the ANC and the government was still being drawn up late yesterday. The two parties were apparently haggling over the definition of a cultural weapon and where one ought to be permitted to carry them.

The talks were disturbingly secretive. Neither the venue nor the exact time were known and by yesterday there had been no press conference or press briefing to update the media. Agreement was reached on Wednesday on the issue of upgrading and phasing out the hostel system and on police impartiality. However, the latter provision will still be sorely tested in the days ahead and could yet derail the peace process if not scrupulously applied.

The SA Police's "Operation Stabilize" -- announced by Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok on Wednesday and which involves stringent new unrest measures, including putting more troops into the township and banning open-air gatherings -- is being closely monitored by the ANC. The ANC and the government are still discussing the peace conference called by De Klerk for May 24 and 25.

A compromise proposal, apparently first suggested by the British ambassador Sir Robin Renwick, is for the conference to be co-hosted by churches, the ANC, the government and Inkatha. It is understood that the ANC is not backing down on other key demands which have not yet been dealt with, such as the dismissal of Vlok and Defence Minister Magnus Malan, but instead will be taking them to the peace conference. Despite these demands not being met, the ANC will not suspend its talks with the government at this point.

Jay Naidoo, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), said this week that they hoped to extract from the peace conference some form of binding agreement for a code of political tolerance for all parties and a code of conduct around the role of the security forces. The movement will also propose a standing commission on violence because it regards the present judicial system as unable to deal with the situation on the ground.

Peace committees will be set up on a local level to mediate disputes as they arise. Other observers say that a moral court of appeal could emerge from the conference, to monitor the behaviour of all parties and render judgment on those falling foul of the agreed-upon codes.

Though the monitoring group would consist of people drawn from inside the country, De Klerk has conceded that people from outside the country who have international experience can be brought in as advisors to the local committees. The question now is whether the fresh measures to quell the violence will be enough -- or whether the momentum of the conflict has built up so far that it is too late to stop the descent into full-scale slaughter.

WeIl-placed observers said this week that no solution could be found in the near-anarchic conditions on the ground, so a bottom-up approach was not feasible. They believe that the country has no choice but to start from the top down.

There are many on both the government and the ANC side who hope that the peace conference will develop into the booster for the constitutional negotiations and particularly the All-Party Conference that is scheduled to be convened in the first half of August.

De Klerk told the Pretoria Press Club on Wednesday that "we have reached a stage where, if we solve a few outstanding problems, we are very near to a situation where real negotiations can start." Plans to hold country-wide universal franchise local authority elections later this year are also on the government's drawing board.