April 21 Elections: A Decisive Moment for South Africa
A Decisive Moment For South Africa

What's at stake in this month's first-ever non-racial
elections? Raymond Suttner reports from Johannesburg.

     Fifty-six days before South Africa's first non-racial
elections, the news is dominated as much by obstacles to the
campaign as by the campaign itself.
     Levels of political violence remain high, and attempts
to bring boycotting right-wing parties in to the electoral
process have had little success.
     What this has meant is that the terms of a seeming
settlement have been dissipated by a series of bilateral and
multilateral talks to amend the country's interim
constitution. Several changes have been made to the interim
constitution -- agreed on as the basic law to govern until a
new elected parliament makes a new constitution -- but these
have failed to bring the right wing on board. It's already
fairly obvious that the ANC's election victory -- which is
virtually certain -- will not itself signal the end of
destabilization, nor the easy achievement of the ANC's goals
for the country's reconstruction and development.
     The elections are a decisive moment in a long and
bloody struggle which has forced the apartheid regime to un-
ban and negotiate with the national liberation forces.
     Negotiations have never meant that the various
components of the "other side" have accepted the need to
give up its privileges. Consequently the give and take of
negotiations has meant making compromises on our side as
well as theirs.
     The negotiations resulted in the establishment of a
Transitional Executive Council which, together with the
existing government, is meant to ensure free and fair
elections. While elections in transitional situations tend
to engender instability and violence, the degree of violence
and general threats to the process in South Africa have been
     There is extensive right-wing resistance to the process
as a whole. On the one hand it involves a variety of white
right forces, whose electoral strength might be close to
that of the National Party (NP) regime. Many of these forces
are highly militarized but some are -- at the same time --
also heavily infiltrated by regime's security forces. Their
violent acts are likely to take place with the knowledge of
these security forces. On the other hand, within these
right-wing forces there have also been Black elements, the
most important of which is the Inkatha Freedom Party under
Mangosothu Buthelezi.
     The white right wing is engaged in acts of sabotage and
threats of war. At the same time, areas of South Africa have
been occupied -- partly symbolically and partly with a
possibility of armed resistance -- and declared part of a
volkstaat (people's state, but people meaning Afrikaners).
     The KwaZulu bantustan, led by Buthelezi, long
considered a powerful opponent of the ANC and at one time
much favored by big capital, now stands isolated from all
but the right wing. Inkatha, if it were to fight elections,
faces the prospect of humiliation, certainly receiving less
than 10 percent of the national vote and definitely not
beating the ANC in its Natal stronghold.
     In this situation Buthelezi has no personal interest in
participating in elections and is making extravagant claims
in an attempt to wreck any possibility of a settlement.
     At the same time the ANC is not being allowed to
operate in much of the area under Buthelezi's control and
assassinations are a regular feature of political life.
     The Bophuthatswana bantustan, (which forms part of the
right-wing alliance under Mangope) enjoys no legitimacy, but
places formidable obstacles in the way of ANC election
activity. There are, however, internal signs of instability,
including civil service strikes, which may facilitate a
tendency for this bantustan to throw in the towel and avoid
further repressive resistance.
     There is a possibility of further splits amongst the
right-wing forces, but in general, the election is likely to
be boycotted by a deeply-divided Inkatha and sections of the
white right wing (which is also divided), including the
Conservative Party (which could possibly draw some 10
percent of the vote).
     In this context the election proceeds under the pall of
violence and threats of violence, and the prospect that it
will not be treated as legitimate by the right wing. They
may, consequently, resist the writ of the new government.
     There is little doubt that the regime has the capacity
to limit the right wing's power to destabilize. While the
regime may be content to allow the right to attack the ANC
now, it may find that these forces have their own ideas
about when to end violence -- and they may prevent an
election taking place at all.
     The NP does want elections because it wants to be part
of a Government of National Unity, constitutionally open to
any party receiving more than 5 percent of the vote. The ANC
needs to use this carrot to pressure the government to take
firmer steps against the right wing.
     Despite all the threats and actual violence, mainly
against potential ANC voters, elections are virtually
certain to take place and with a high poll.
     Depending on which parties participate, ANC electoral
performance could be anything between 50 and 70 percent. Its
support is massive amongst the African population, while the
Coloured (mixed race) and Indian population are tending to
support the NP, although large numbers of this group are
undecided. Very few whites will vote for the ANC.
     If the right-wing rank and file do not vote, the ANC
may achieve a two-thirds majority, which means that it can -
- if it so desires -- write the new constitution without
attempting fresh compromises with its opponents. The
remainder of the vote is likely to be shared between the NP,
likely to get about 20 percent, the Democratic Party, five
percent, and the Pan Africanist Congress, whose support is
hard to judge, though it is not likely to be more than 10
     The format of the elections involves both national and
regional government. While there are measures to prevent
conflict between regional and national bodies, the NP would
obviously like to control regions in order to undermine
national reconstruction plans.
     At the moment, the ANC will definitely win in all but
two regions -- the Northern and Western Cape -- where
Coloureds are a majority of voters. The position in these
regions is by no means final.
     By the time this article appears, an ANC-dominated
government may have been installed. It will have to move
rapidly to implement its Reconstruction and Development
Programme, adopted at a national ANC conference after months
of consultation. Through this programme questions of
violence, crime and other sources of instability amongst the
Black population (as well as the right wing's white working
class support base) may be addressed.
     Governing will involve numerous opportunities as well
as complex constraints. No reconstruction programme will
succeed through parliament and the Government of National
Unity alone. The strength of organization outside parliament
will be decisive in ensuring that the new democracy leads to
a broad transformation of peoples lives.
     Following the South African elections April 27,
CrossRoads will carry a special package of articles --
including another contribution by Raymond Suttner --
analyzing the results and their implications.