Inkatha might join S. African elections, leader says after talks with Mandela

March 02, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The roller coaster of emotions in the buildup to South Africa's first multiracial elections took an upswing yesterday as Mangosuthu Buthelezi indicated that he might not boycott the vote.

He said he would provisionally register his Inkatha Freedom Party for the elections in late April. This was a breakthrough.

The statement came at the end of a day-long meeting in Durban between Mr. Buthelezi and Nelson Mandela, head of the African National Congress (ANC), during which the two men agreed to seek international mediation for their disputes over the country's new constitution.

"I came here in high spirits," Mr. Mandela told a news conference after the meeting. "And I leave in even higher spirits than I came. I feel we made solid progress."

"This was not just a diplomatic exercise," Mr. Buthelezi said. "I would characterize our discussions as very fruitful."

The constitutional dispute between the two parties centers on the power of the provinces in the new constitution. Mr. Buthelezi has been demanding more of a federal system that would guarantee a certain amount of autonomy for provinces, including the Natal region where his Zulu-based party is strongest.

And he made clear that if the international mediation does not satisfy those demands, Inkatha will still boycott the vote.

"If there is no solution, of course it does not oblige us to participate," he said of a provisional sign-up. "It leaves our options open."

Yesterday's talks came as the country's Parliament met in Cape Town to approve constitutional amendments designed to satisfy Inkatha demands along with those of its allies in the Freedom Alliance, the white right wing and the government of the independent homeland of Boputhatswana.

The Parliament is also extending the already expired deadline for parties to register for the elections until the end of this week.

Mr. Buthelezi, who had refused to register his party by the original Feb. 10 deadline, initially rejected those amendments as not going far enough and, even as they were proposed, seemed to back a call by the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini for an independent Zulu kingdom.

But yesterday, such defiance seemed far away from the Durban hotel as Mr. Mandela and Mr. Buthelezi smiled and laughed wherever they were seen together. At one point, they left their advisers behind and talked one-on-one for several hours.

This is only the fourth time the two men have met since Mr. Man

dela was released in February 1990 after 27 years in jail. Though Mr. Buthelezi, in his position as head of the Zulu homeland of KwaZulu, has been recognized as an anti-apartheid leader, the turf battles between Inkatha and the ANC, which began in the mid-1980s, have intensified in this decade and are blamed for the bulk of political deaths in the country.

That rivalry spilled over into the negotiations for a new constitution as Mr. Buthelezi pulled his party out of those talks when the April 27 election date was confirmed last July.

The last meeting between the two men, last June, ostensibly to discuss the violence, was clearly strained, and they have had said little nice about one another since.

So yesterday's images of friendship between the two men did much to raise the spirits of the people here who are anxious about the prospect of violence-marred elections, particularly in Natal where it is assumed that any "stay away" call by Mr. Buthelezi would be brutally enforced by Inkatha supporters.

Still, yesterday's meeting was far from a final agreement. And an agreement between the ANC and Inkatha would still leave the white right wing, which is demanding its own autonomous white homeland in South Africa.

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