Row over power sharing shatters South Africa's rainbow coalition

The South African President Thabo Mbeki has smashed the fragile, decade-old coalition pact with the country's largest opposition party, raising fears of unrest.

At the swearing-in ceremony of his new cabinet yesterday, Mr Mbeki said two deputy ministers from the rival Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) had dropped out of the government in a dispute over power sharing. The news came the day after Mr Mbeki ditched the Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

The President said he would appoint two new deputy ministers to replace IFP members Musa Zondi and Vincent Ngema, who were appointed deputy ministers of sport and public works after the general election on 14 April. "What will therefore happen is that we will proceed to appoint two deputy ministers since they have declined to serve ... I will appoint people willing to take the oath and willing to work," Mr Mbeki added.

The decision ended a coalition pact that had existed since the country's first all-race elections in 1994 when political violence between IFP supporters and those of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) claimed 20,000 lives in KwaZulu-Natal province and almost derailed the transition to majority democracy.

Total disaster was averted when the IFP decided at the last minute to contest the 1994 elections. The IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi was subsequently brought into Nelson Mandela's cabinet as Home Affairs Minister. Mr Buthelezi was reappointed to the same post when Mr Mbeki succeeded Mr Mandela in 1999. The coalition arrangement kept KwaZulu-Natal province subdued but Mr Buthelezi often complained that he was humiliated in Mr Mbeki's cabinet.

Mr Mbeki dropped Mr Buthelezi from the new cabinet on Wednesday. Mr Buthelezi, 75, then suffered personal tragedy with the death of his 53-year-old son yesterday.

Mr Buthelezi, whose long rivalry with the ANC has frequently resulted in factional fighting in the IFP stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal, was dropped from the cabinet after a wrangle with Mr Mbeki over the publication of new immigration rules.

The feud ended up in court, where Mr Buthelezi lost to Mr Mbeki, who had taken the unprecedented step of suing his cabinet minister.

Mr Buthelezi's party failed to win a majority in its stronghold Kwazulu Natal, narrowly beaten by the ANC, in this month's elections.

Mr Buthelezi had threatened a court challenge to the results, which gave the ANC about 70 per cent of the overall vote and effective control of all nine provinces for the first time. But he said on Monday his party would not go ahead with the case.

That decision had been interpreted as a conciliatory gesture by Mr Buthelezi so that he could be considered for Mr Mbeki's cabinet again. Even though Mr Mbeki had been widely expected to drop Mr Buthelezi from the Home Affairs post, many had expected him to appoint the IFP leader to another portfolio to keep the peace in KwaZulu-Natal. That did not happen and fears of renewed political violence in the province now abound.

The IFP said the axing of Mr Buthelezi from the home affairs portfolio had come as no surprise. Mr Zondi, who has been dropped from the deputy ministerial post but is also the national spokesman for the IFP, said the firing reflected the state of relations between the ANC and IFP.

Mr Mbeki has appointed the leader of the New National Party, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, as his Minister of Environment and Tourism, in a sign that he is willing to work with some opposition parties. The New National Party is a reincarnation of the National Party, which invented and vigorously implemented the apartheid policy of racial separation.

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