ANC finally gets historic majority

THE INCOMING African National Congress government secured the coveted two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to change aspects of the South African constitution when it made a deal yesterday with a small Indian-led party.

Through a coalition agreement with the Minority Front, the ANC secured the single extra seat it needed after last week's national election, taking it to 267 seats out of 400. Crucially, it also wrested control of KwaZulu- Natal province from Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inka-tha Freedom Party.

In the run-up to the announcement, expected on Monday, of the cabinet chosen by the next president, Thabo Mbeki, a flurry of deals are being struck behind the scenes. Priorities in the mind of Mr Mbeki, who will formally succeed President Nelson Mandela next Wednesday, are said to be finding a role for Chief Buthelezi - possibly as his deputy - and enhancing the role of women.

His inauguration in Pretoria next Wednesday, a pounds 4.5m event that will also mark Mr Mandela's farewell after five years as President, is expected to be attended by 27 African presidents and a panoply of pop stars. Britain will be represented by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, as Tony Blair will be at the G8 summit in Cologne. Hillary Clinton is expected to act for the United States.

President Slobodan Milosevic, after being invited in March with the leaders of all countries with which South Africa had diplomatic relations, has been told he can come at his own risk. The Yugoslav leader, whose son has interests in South Africa, would be arrested as soon as he touched down here and turned over to the United Nations tribunal, which has indicted him as a war criminal.

Yesterday's deal giving the ANC a two-thirds majority in the national parliament is mainly symbolic, because on any given issue the government would have been able to obtain the support of one or more smaller parties. Nevertheless, the 267th seat now secured by the ANC is a psychological fillip that can be used by the ruling party to keep in check what is likely to be a rowdy opposition under the Democratic Party leader, Tony Leon.

Even though the government can make adjustments to the constitution with its two-thirds majority, fundamental changes require the support of three- quarters of all MPs.

The biggest victory for the ANC in yesterday's deal with the Minority Front is to have forced Inkatha to relinquish control of KwaZulu-Natal's provincial legislature. Last Wednesday, Inkatha won 41.9 per cent (34 seats) in the province against the ANC's 39.3 per cent (32 seats). Under yesterday's deal, the Durban-based Minority Front, led by Amichand Rajbansi, in effect handed over its two provincial seats to the ANC, giving it parity with Inkatha.

The deal - described by Mr Rajbansi as a "roar for non-racialism" - emasculates Chief Buthelezi's party in its own home province and surely marks the end of the IFP-ANC political rivalry, which has claimed at least 10,000 lives in the past 15 years. It is not clear who will be chosen as provincial premier of KwaZulu-Natal.

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