Inkatha party leaves talks in South Africa Move could be bluff or step toward civil war

July 19, 1993|By New York Times News Service

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The Inkatha Freedom Party, which has taxed South Africa's democracy talks with an erratic campaign of filibusters and threats, announced yesterday that it was withdrawing from the negotiations until it is given a veto over the country's new political order.

If the party, most of whose members are Zulu, holds to its demand, the decision could be the first step toward an attempt at secession by the predominantly Zulu eastern province of Natal and a civil war.

If it is just another act of political brinkmanship, that should become clear within a few weeks. By September, the remaining negotiators are expected to set up a transitional executive council to take over important powers from the government in the period leading up to national elections in April.

At that point, parties planning to contest the elections must either submit to the transitional authority or, in effect, set themselves on a course of insurgency.

The betting among rival negotiators is that Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, Inkatha's leader, will ultimately remain in the talks and abide by the outcome. But Chief Buthelezi is a proud and temperamental man whose own negotiators sometimes admit they are uncertain where his strategy is leading.

President F. W. de Klerk's white minority government and the African National Congress, led by Nelson Mandela, had already made it clear that they would press ahead even if Inkatha pulled out.

But relations between these two leading parties came under new strains early yesterday morning after a shoot-out between police officers and security guards accompanying the ANC's deputy president, Walter Sisulu, to his home from Mr. Mandela's 75th birthday party.

One guard was killed but Mr. Sisulu, who is 80, was not hurt.

Inkatha's decision to boycott the negotiations came one day after the white separatist Conservative Party declared it would not attend the talks when they resume on Monday.

Ferdi Hartzenberg, the Conservative leader, said his party would not return until the forum had satisfied a demand for an autonomous province for whites, an idea most parties reject.

Inkatha, the Conservatives, and the leaders of two black homelands have operated as a loose bloc at the talks. All have settled on the same strategy for protecting their power bases: designing a future South Africa in which regional governments would have a great degree of independence from the central authority, which is likely to be the African National Congress.

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