Buthelezi demands threaten to wreck mediators' mission: KwaZulu Chief Minister isolated by insistence that possible postponement of this month's election must be on agenda

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LORD CARRINGTON and Henry Kissinger, who were due to travel to a secret venue yesterday morning to mediate on the Zulu question, spent much of the day instead holed up in Johannesburg's Carlton Hotel contemplating the thought that their trip to South Africa might have been wasted.

The delay came after Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Inkatha leader, had insisted that a possible postponement of the date of South Africa's first democratic elections, due from 26 April to 28 April, should be on the mediators' agenda.

But neither the African National Congress nor the South African government nor, for that matter, Lord Carrington and Dr Kissinger, are prepared even to discuss the idea of a postponement. The terms of reference of the meeting, Dr Kissinger said, had to focus on outstanding constitutional disputes and nothing more.

The two foreign-policy veterans made good use of their morning, however, holding meetings with the ANC president, Nelson Mandela, and Chief Buthelezi. They had met President F W de Klerk shortly after their arrival on Tuesday.

The storm erupted at noon yesterday, when Chief Buthelezi called an impromptu press conference in the foyer of the Carlton Hotel and accused the ANC and the government of attempting to sabotage the mediation effort by colluding to stop Inkatha from taking part in the elections. 'The new draft (of the terms of reference) is not acceptable to us. The ANC and the government are trying to make sure there is no chance of discussing a new election date,' he said.

Chief Buthelezi, who is battling for his political survival, had imagined that the arrival of the international mediators had presented him with a lifeline. What he did yesterday, as a seasoned South African political observer put it, amounted to 'walking out of his own party'.

At a reception on Tuesday night to welcome the mediators - Lord Carrington, Dr Kissinger and five others - he was beaming with delight, clearly flattered that such eminent gentlemen should have seen fit to travel so far to address a problem essentially of his own making. He declared then that what was needed was a miracle.

Nothing short of that, government and ANC officials were saying yesterday, could possibly pull the Inkatha leader out of the mess he finds himself in now. He has consistently refused to take part in the elections, claiming that the constitution neither provides sufficient safeguards for the Zulu monarchy nor does it allow for the devolution of powers to provincial governments that he would ideally require.

Those two issues are contained in the mediators' terms of reference. The problem is that it is too late now, even in the unlikely event of Chief Buthelezi's constitutional demands being satisfied, for Inkatha to take part in the elections without a postponement. That was why yesterday Chief Buthelezi was saying this should be the first issue on the mediation agenda.

But on Tuesday night Mr de Klerk declared that a postponement was impossible. Mr Mandela said the same thing, only more categorically, yesterday morning. And then Dr Kissinger told reporters that what Mr Mandela had described to him as 'the date of freedom for South Africa' was not an issue the mediation team was prepared to discuss. Lord Carrington said it would be inappropriate for seven foreigners to take a position on the election date.

The other mediators are Justice H K Bhagwati of India; A Leon Higginbotham, a retired US judge; Paul Kevenhoerster, a German political scientist; Justice Antonio La Pergola of Italy; and Professor Jean Antoine Laponce, an expert on ethnic disputes in Canada.

Yesterday afternoon, as Lord Carrington and Dr Kissinger sat waiting in their hotel rooms, government, ANC and Inkatha negotiators met in Pretoria to see if they could agree on new terms of reference for the mediation effort. The meeting ended fruitlessly last night. Sources close to the talks said it was virtually impossible that Chief Buthelezi's wishes would be accommodated.

With Dr Kissinger, Lord Carrington, Mr Mandela, Mr de Klerk, the vast majority of the South African population and the international community at large firmly resolved to thwart any attempts to delay the election, Chief Buthelezi was looking more isolated than ever last night.

He received no help from the Commonwealth either. The head of the Commonwealth Observer Group for the elections, former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley, declared at a press conference yesterday that he saw no reason why the violence in Natal/KwaZulu, mostly orchestrated by Inkatha supporters, should stop the elections from going ahead.

It was 'absolutely possible to hold elections that reflect the will of the majority of people even under conditions of violence', he said.