In a concession that at least postponed the threat of a violent election boycott, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party agreed Tuesday that his mainly Zulu party would provisionally register for the country's first free elections.
In exchange, Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress endorsed an Inkatha proposal to submit the parties' deep differences about a new Constitution to international mediation.
The bargain the two men forged in more than seven hours together was no assurance that Inkatha would forsake its sworn course of resistance.
Buthelezi said the meeting brought the two men no closer to agreement on his conditions for taking part in the elections, and an ANC participant in the talks said chances of a successful international mediation in the eight weeks left before the elections were extremely remote.
Buthelezi said Inkatha would register to keep its options open, but asked if Inkatha was any closer to taking part in the elections, Buthelezi said, "Not at all."
But by committing themselves to more talks and still more talks, the two men stepped back from the brink of a battle that many feared would bring new carnage to Natal, the battle-scarred, predominantly Zulu province.
And some Inkatha officials who have argued all along that the party erred by deciding to defy the elections were freshly optimistic Tuesday night that they might yet change Inkatha's course.
Mandela and Buthelezi said they also agreed to work together to assure that campaign canvassers have free access to each other's enclaves.
The deadline for parties to put their names on the April ballot passed on Feb. 12, with Inkatha and an array of white separatist parties failing to register.
Parliament has convened this week to extend the deadline until next Friday and to enact several constitutional amendments aimed at appeasing the holdout parties.