Zulu head seeks own 'sovereign state,' power to disregard South African laws

December 02, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Black Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi sought to leap ahead of South Africa's constitutional process yesterday by mapping out his own "sovereign state" and proclaiming its powers.

Mr. Buthelezi proposed a regional constitution that would merge his black homeland of KwaZulu with the adjacent province of Natal and give the new state power to reject national laws.

"The constitution of KwaZulu/Natal fully reveals to South Africa our vision for the country's future," said a statement issued by Mr. Buthelezi's Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.

"It is intended that once ratified by the electorate of KwaZulu/Natal, the new constitution will stand in force regardless of the direction taken by the new constitutional process of South Africa," it said.

The proposal, announced in the KwaZulu capital of Ulundi, came on the eve of private talks between the African National Congress and the government of President F. W. de Klerk. Previous bilateral talks between the two parties, the major players in the 3-year-old negotiating process, have irked Mr. Buthelezi, who says he will not honor secret agreements made by the government and the ANC.

The three-day meeting between the government and the ANC was designed to put South Africa's long-stalled negotiations back on track by sorting out procedural and policy differences between the two parties. But Mr. Buthelezi's move seems designed to derail that process.

The ANC declined to comment, saying it wants to study Mr. Buthelezi's 44-page proposal. Other politicians criticized the Zulu leader for acting unilaterally just when the rest of the country was trying to get back to multiparty talks.

"If there are any intentions lurking behind this document to go it alone or secede, it would be most unwise and pointless," said Sheila Camerer, a member of Parliament and spokeswoman for Mr. de Klerk's party.

"We feel this sort of aggression is not necessary. The ANC and the government are not making any clandestine deals," she said.

Dennis Worrell, a leading member of the liberal white Democratic Party, said he was disappointed Mr. Buthelezi was trying to go his own way "at a point where most other people are moving towards a consensus on this process."

"Whatever the strengths or virtues of this proposal, this is not the way to go about it."

Mr. Buthelezi denied that he was putting a secession plan into place. In a radio interview, he said he wanted his state to be part of a federal system of government. The plan was approved yesterday by the KwaZulu legislature, a rubber stamp for the Zulu leader, but there was no indication of when it would be presented to voters.

Mr. Buthelezi is boycotting multiparty negotiations because of what he describes as attempts by the ANC, his bitter rival, and the government to cut deals affecting everyone else.

This latest move is probably an attempt to shake up the two major political players just as they are getting back together and to undermine the ANC, which would likely be the strongest party in any future national government.

The ANC, the country's most popular black group, supports a strong central government. But its leaders said last week the organization would be willing to share power in a government of national unity with Mr. de Klerk and other parties that demonstrated support in elections.

Mr. de Klerk's National Party and Mr. Buthelezi's IFP prefer a federal system with strong regions. But the National Party is trying to devise such a system at the negotiating table. Mr. Buthelezi seems to be pulling in a different direction, perhaps because he's certain he'll lose out at the negotiating table.

His proposal said his "sovereign state" of KwaZulu/Natal would recognize federal laws "in so far as they are not inconsistent with this constitution."

Some political analysts said that was practically a call for secession.

Vincent Mpai, a political scientist at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, said the constitutional proposal could be "a warning or a diversionary tactic" resulting from panic on Mr. Buthelezi's part.

It also could be the Zulu leader's way of getting attention since he has clearly felt left out of the process in recent months.

After being considered South Africa's prominent black leader for so many years before the ANC was unbanned, he is having a hard time adjusting to his second-place role to Nelson Mandela. His biggest fear is that he would wind up a weak leader of a Zulu state under a strong ANC-led national government.

An arrangement like that would be unbearable for a man with his tremendous ego. And it likely would be unprofitable too, since there are such bad feelings between his Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC.

More than 12,000 people have died since 1984 in political clashes, mainly between Inkatha and ANC supporters.

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