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South Africa: former Australian Prime Minister and the Leader of the ANC discuss South Africa's future

PETER THOMPSON: Gough Whitlam, who as Prime Minister two decades ago gave Australia a prominent role in the fight against apartheid, is today, for the first time, in South Africa. His visit comes as the country's main political groups attempt to move ahead with negotiations on a new constitution in the face of boycotts and continuing violence in black townships. Mr Whitlam has met Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg to discuss both the reform process and opposition to it. After their meeting, our correspondent, Marius Benson, found himself standing between two giants.

NELSON MANDELA: .... and Mr Whitlam is dominating in other things. And he dominated me inside here. But I did brief him very shortly about the problems in the country. I did say that we are going to persuade all political parties which have pulled out of the negotiations and we have sufficient patience to realise that we, all of us, have got the responsibility to try and persuade one another to join the process.

MARIUS BENSON: When you look at the balance, Mr Mandela, between those who want to join the process, those who are still in the process, and those who are boycotting it, how certain is the election date for next year, in your mind?

NELSON MANDELA: Don't take it for granted that there are no constructive discussions between those who are inside the process and those outside, and if there are very important moves that are being made in order to resolve problems with everybody, including the right wing, the time may not be opportune for us to disclose that. And nobody should be alarmed at the problems that are arising and I think that date - on the basis of the facts at the present moment, we are on schedule.

MARIUS BENSON: So you are, in fact, having talks with Inkatha and with the conservatives, even though they're boycotting the talks, the public talks?

NELSON MANDELA: We are having discussions with everybody, without exception.

MARIUS BENSON: Mr Whitlam, did you come away from your discussions with Mr Mandela optimistic about the prospects for this nation?

GOUGH WHITLAM: Yes, I am. I've observed Mr Mandela for many years. He is a man who has kept his spirit and has retained his magnanimity. I would believe that the great majority of people in this country, of all points of view, want to see the fulfilment of the stability and the participation which he holds out for it. I'm not unaware, of course, from my own country, that people who have retired from armed services or people who have some particular local preoccupation can get a very great deal of publicity through the media. They're always available to the media for interviews and for threats, and the more certain it is that the election is held, that the executive arrangements are fulfilled in the next few months, the better it will be for all the people in this country.

MARIUS BENSON: Mr Mandela, do you share Mr Whitlam's view that the right wing, that the former military people like that - who oppose black rule - are receiving more attention than they deserve, that they're noisier than their real strength?

NELSON MANDELA: Well, the important thing that I would like to focus upon is that in the right wing in this country and amongst the generals that are retired, are men who are anxious for stability in this country and for a peaceful solution, and we are making progress in our attempt to resolve any concerns and fears on the part of any group generally, and in particular on the part of the right wing.

PETER THOMPSON: Nelson Mandela and Gough Whitlam with Marius Benson in Johannesburg.