JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Negotiators for the African National Congress (ANC) and the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) announced what was termed a "strategic interim agreement" yesterday that should allow the umbrella right-wing white group to participate in next April's election.
The agreement was a breakthrough for the South African government, but talks remained deadlocked with the Freedom Alliance, a disparate group united only by a desire for greater local autonomy through a new constitution that is to be adopted tomorrow.
The Alliance, which includes the AVF, had pulled out of talks on the new constitution and refused to participate in the April election, the nation's first multiracial polling.
Details of the agreement with the AVF -- described as an agreement to agree -- were to be announced this morning, only a few hours after a deadline for concluding negotiations with the Alliance.
The flurry of activity comes as South Africa's various political groups finally play out the end game of the country's quest for a new constitution suitable to as many players as possible.
After two years of negotiations, the Multi-Party Talks finalized a new constitution last month -- but without the participation of the Freedom Alliance, which includes the Conservative Party and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, along with two of the so-called independent homelands set up for blacks under apartheid.
Since then, the government and the ANC have been in talks with the various boycotters aimed at getting them to approve the constitution before it is passed by tomorrow's last sitting of the all-white Parliament.
The announcement of an agreement between the ANC and the AVF puts the pressure on Chief Buthelezi to compromise and participate in the April election.
Chief Buthelezi last weekend lashed out again at the ANC and the government. Despite his rhetoric, it is known that much of Inkatha's top leadership is determined to take part in the April election. In addition, one of the homeland leaders in the AVF, Gen. Oupa Gqozo of Ciskei, has said he will participate. Chief Buthelezi has said that Inkatha's participation will be decided at a meeting next month.
The ANC and the government are willing to make small changes in the constitution to satisfy demands of the Freedom Alliance, but it will be much easier to make such modifications before the final parliamentary vote. Any subsequent amendments could entail calling the Parliament back into a special session in the early months of next year, even as the campaign is heating up.
Negotiations between the ANC and the AVF have focused on the basic right-wing demand for a Volkstat, an independent homeland for the Afrikaners, descendants of the country's original white settlers, Dutch and French immigrants who came to the cape 350 years ago and fought the British at the turn of the century in the Boer Wars.
Although there is no doubt that the ANC, committed to keeping South Africa a unified country, would not agree to such an independent state, it is thought that it would go along with modifying the borders of one of the planned nine regions in the new map of South Africa to give Afrikaners a substantial portion of that region's population.
Coupled with some constitutional changes that provide more guarantees of regional powers, this might be enough to satisfy the AVF, or at least to give it a face-saving way to agree to participate in the April election. The ANC, led by Nelson Mandela, is heavily favored to win that election.
In yesterday's announcement, the AVF and the ANC said that they agreed on the need for democratic elections, while the ANC said that it recognized the legitimacy of the Afrikaner position.
Getting the AVF on board also helps to reduce the possibility of violence from the right wing, since it includes the far-right-wing AWB, a paramilitary organization whose leader, Eugene TerreBlanche, regularly threatens war, and the Conservative Party, headed by Ferdie Hartzenberg, who has also made threats of an armed struggle to ensure Afrikaner freedom.
What is not known is whether Mr. TerreBlanche and Mr. Hartzenberg will go along with the ANC-AVF agreement negotiated by Constand Viljoen, former head of the South African Defense Force, who came out of retirement to lead the AVF.