JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The opening phase of official negotiations on South Africa's future ended on a high note of optimism yesterday, with the African National Congress predicting that within a year South Africa could have a new constitution enshrining political equality for the nation's black majority.
"We firmly believe that from what we have achieved to date, we can have a new constitution in place by Christmas 1992," said Nelson Mandela, the congress leader.
Buoyed by the results of the two-day meeting of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, as the new forum is called, Mr. Mandela said, "It marks a start of the negotiating process, the first steps in the quest for a democratic South Africa."
President F. W. de Klerk told the convention that "we have obtained wonders in these few days" but noted that the real work would now begin.
Before adjourning, the convention appointed five working groups tackle concerns likely to impede progress. They are scheduled to report back in February or March to the next full session of the convention, which has emerged as the forum for the unfolding process of negotiations.
The African National Congress reacted cautiously to Mr. de Klerk's offer Friday to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with a transitional government approved in a referendum open to voters of all races. But the congress did not dismiss the offer out of hand.
The congress has demanded that an interim government with sovereign powers replace the white minority government. And it wants a constitutional assembly popularly elected to draft the new charter, a task that Mr. de Klerk believes should be left to the newly created convention.
"We are ready to consider the proposals which the government says it is almost ready to present concerning these matters," Mr. Mandela said.
At his own news conference, Mr. de Klerk said changes in the nation's constitution must be approved by Parliament. But he promised that blacks would be included on a common voters' roll for a national referendum on the changes.
Mr. de Klerk said he was honor-bound to submit constitutional changes to the white voters who elected him but expressed confidence in the result.
"I haven't even for one moment thought about the possibility of losing a referendum," he said.
Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk also moved to patch up their working relationship after the bitter public dispute Friday night over the African National Congress' refusal to disband its inert military wing, Spear of the Nation.
The two leaders reportedly met privately Friday night for a reconciliation.
Yesterday morning, Mr. Mandela walked across the convention floor and shook Mr. de Klerk's hand. Mr. Mandela also talked about their clash, which was broadcast live on television.
"What was said had to be said," Mr. Mandela told the delegates.