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 exceptional. 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). PALL OF VIOLENCE 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 percent. 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.