Mandela goes into last lap as president

President Nelson Mandela reassured South Africans yesterday that there would be a peaceful transfer of power as he winds down his presidency, saying he could support a rival party member as deputy president.

Mr Mandela, 79, is stepping down as head of the ruling African National Congress at a convention starting tomorrow in the northern town of Mafikeng. His successor will be Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, who is expected to follow him as president in the 1999 elections.

In a live television interview, Mr Mandela said he would be "happy" to see Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the minister of home affairs, as Mr Mbeki's deputy president. He said a merger between Inkatha and ANC would help national unity and would be "a very progressive development."

Cheryl Carolus, acting ANC secretary-general, yesterday confirmed a newspaper report that Inkatha would send its first-ever delegation to an ANC conference.

Mr Mandela repeated past statements that he has begun the process of transferring power to Mr Mbeki. "He is the man who is already running the country," he said. "I am a de jure president and Thabo Mbeki is already the de facto president."

- AP, Johannesburg

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