JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Negotiators Tuesday night approved creation of a multiracial transitional council to oversee governance of the country in the months leading up to South Africa's first universal-suffrage election on April 27.
The council will provide blacks a limited veto over some government decisions during the election campaign but will allow the white-minority government to retain operational control of the security forces and other key government functions.
"This is one of the final steps in bringing down the edifice of apartheid," said Cyril Ramaphosa, chief negotiator for the African National Congress, the nation's largest anti-apartheid group.
Roelf Meyer, chief negotiator for the government, called formation of the Transitional Executive Council a compromise that achieved the objective of "leveling the playing field" in advance of the election without forcing the government to give up its sovereignty.
The council--which is not expected to begin operating for another two months and will expire immediately after the election--is designed to force the government and ANC-led anti-apartheid forces to cooperate in making arrangements for the election, much as they expect to cooperate in a coalition government after the vote.
The difference, say political observers, is that the government will be the senior partner up through the election, while the ANC expects to become the senior partner by virtue of winning the most votes next April.
The long-awaited step--Tuesday night's resolution was the 17th draft--is expected to open the way for the ANC to call for removal of all remaining foreign economic sanctions on South Africa.
"We expect later this month (to call for) those sanctions to be lifted," ANC Chairman and Foreign Affairs Director Thabo Mbeki told a gathering of U.S. businessmen, who were holding a "Made in U.S.A." trade exhibition in the same building where the multi-party talks were under way.
The council, which is expected to win pro forma approval in Parliament next week, will allow for multi-party "monitoring"--but not direct control--of the police and the defense forces.
The government will retain the power to declare states of emergency, a step that can be blocked only by disapproval of 80% of the council, which is expected to number about 20 members representing different parties.
Agreement on the council came in the absence of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, the leading conservative black group, and the Conservative Party, the leading conservative white group, which have been boycotting the democracy talks for two months.
Conservative Party leader Ferdi Hartzenberg has warned that the creation of the council would trigger civil war, while Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi has threatened to boycott the election unless his party is assured that regions in the new South Africa will have virtual autonomy.