PRETORIA, South Africa -- Political groups with extremely different characteristics joined yesterday in a formal alliance to stop the country's march toward its first nonracial elections next year.
The so-called Freedom Alliance consists of representatives of two white right-wing groups who seek a homeland for the Afrikaner people and the leaders of three black tribal homelands, nominally independent states set up by the apartheid government to deny blacks South African citizenship.
They have all withdrawn from the Multi Party Talks that worked out the Transitional Executive Council (TEC). The TEC would essentially run the country leading up the scheduled April 27 election, putting blacks in a position of power in South Africa for the first time in 300 years of white rule.
It was passage of the TEC by the country's Parliament that led to the lifting of many of the economic and other sanctions that have isolated South Africa.
But no matter what the view of the rest of the world, the Freedom Alliance rejects the TEC and what most call the progress made at the negotiations.
"What the world thinks is good for South Africa is not necessarily good for South Africa," Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party and chief minister of the Zulu homeland, said at a news conference yesterday.
"We did not think that the rest of the world knew what was best for South Africa when it imposed sanctions, and we don't think they know what is best for South Africa now."
Though sanctions are disappearing and international accolades are still pouring in, the TEC has not yet been implemented. That will not happen until a larger, plenary session of the negotiations approves it and an interim constitution.
By pulling out of the talks, the Freedom Alliance puts that plenary session in jeopardy because the chief powers in the negotiations -- the African National Congress (ANC) and current National Party government -- want the broadest possible involvement.
As one way out of this dilemma, President F. W. de Klerk has proposed a referendum, the country's first nonracial vote, on the negotiations, giving that process a legitimacy that the Freedom Alliance seeks to deny it by withdrawing.
Such a referendum has often been discussed but is now taken more seriously because, for the first time, the ANC has not rejected the idea out of hand. Mr. de Klerk said that the vote should be scheduled if the negotiators have not agreed on a constitution in four weeks.
Members of the Freedom Alliance did reject the idea. Rowan Cronje, who negotiated for the independent homeland of Bophuthatswana before it withdrew, said that such votes are usually taken on something that has been agreed to in negotiations.
"I don't see how there can be a vote when the negotiations have not come to any agreement," he said.
Mr. Buthelezi also dismissed the referendum idea. "Again, you are talking about the majority ruling, but the essence of democracy is protecting the minorities," he said. "That is what we are talking about here."
In one view, the Freedom Alliance is composed of people who are doing what politicians do the world over -- trying to keep their jobs, their perks and patronage, which most of them stand to lose after a popular vote.
But the members of this group say they are seeking greater local autonomy for the country's regions in an effort to avoid giving a central government dictatorial powers and to ease the ethnic and racial pressures that could tear a new South Africa apart.
Mr. Cronje said that the group "stems from the commitment of these leaders, within the parameters of their respective ideologies, policies and political visions, to secure the internationally accepted principle of self-determination for the peoples of southern Africa."
In referring to the region of "southern Africa," instead of the country of South Africa, Mr. Cronje showed one of the fundamental principles of the Freedom Alliance, that the new South Africa should not be a unitary state but a loose confederation of semi-independent regions, each of which would probably be dominated by one of the many racial or ethnic groups that populate the country.
At the negotiating table, the ANC has acceded to demands for greater regional autonomy, but only in the context of a unified country with no ethnic or racial distinctions.
Yet the whites who sit on the Freedom Alliance want a state that would allow the Afrikaner "the right of self-determination," which essentially means a guaranteed control of the government by whites.
"We believe in freedom and self-determination," said Ferdie Hartzenburg, leader of the right-wing Conservative Party. "Negotiations should be able to bring that about, but that is not happening [in the Multi Party Talks]."
By banding together, the members of the Freedom Alliance, which includes the head of the Ciskei homeland and the Afrikaner Volksfront, an umbrella right-wing group, are seeking to have the same status as the government and the ANC.
The alliance is asking for individual discussions with each of those parties away from the negotiating table.
Mr. de Klerk met with the Freedom Alliance leaders on Monday just before floating the referendum idea.
The essential change that the Freedom Alliance wants is to have a final constitution, with entrenched regional powers, agreed upon at the negotiations before the election.
"You have to remember that the whole world recognized the ZTC Soviet Union, and it fell apart," Mr. Buthelezi said. "We do not want to put something together here that is going to fall apart again."