South Africa and negotiations: new hope or false dawn?

This brief reports describes the dramatically changed political landscape in South Africa. Since early August, there have been a number of statements by both sides which indicate a desire to end the South African conflict even though the parties remain committed to a settlement on their own terms. Regarding the government, this signifies an admission that the economic measures by the international community are effective, and regarding the ANC, a shift from a hard-line to a more moderate position. Other key players have not even been brought into the process yet, and the issue is complicated by their opposition to the process. Thus prospects for a negotiated settlement in the short term do not appear substantial. To advance negotiations, all parties have to accept that outright victory is not possible, that no party is able to achieve its objectives without the help of its rivals, and that no party can dictate the outcome. Neither side has accepted these principles, let alone other organisations. Neither can comply with the other’s demands without damaging its own power base, and each perceives itself to be strong enough to determine the preconditions for negotiations and dictate the outcome. In such circumstances the glimmer of hope for a negotiated settlement must remain just that.