Buthelezi rejects ANC election concessions: Inkatha chief will boycott poll even though key demands have been met

MANGOSUTHU Buthelezi, the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, angrily rejected yesterday the constitutional concessions by the African National Congress to try to persuade him to drop his war talk and take part in South Africa's first democratic elections. Inkatha, he declared, would campaign vigorously against the elections.

But the reaction of the white right, at whom Wednesday's concessions were also aimed, was more circumspect, spokesmen saying that the ANC move merited close examination. The various right-wing groupings that make up the Afrikaner Volksfront coalition were meeting yesterday evening in an attempt to formulate a common response.

The Inkatha central committee was also meeting but Chief Buthelezi, who is Inkatha personified, provided few grounds in a statement issued at 2am yesterday to believe that the outcome would hold any great surprises.

He lashed out at Nelson Mandela, who had said after announcing the concessions on Wednesday evening, all of them designed to address his and the Volksfront's calls for self-determination, that the ANC had bent over backwards to find a solution that would bring peace to South Africa.

'What utter hypocrisy,' he said. 'Mr Mandela's statement amounts to no more than cheap politicking on life-and-death issues.'

The ruling National Party and the liberal Democratic Party, each of which shares Inkatha's stated commitment to federalism, praised the ANC's proposals and expressed surprise at what political commentators were calling the Inkatha leader's 'knee-jerk reaction'.

All the more surprising as, on Wednesday morning, barely eight hours before Mr Mandela unveiled his concessions, Chief Buthelezi had set out four key conditions for electoral participation: recognition of regional powers; greater fiscal powers for regional governments; guarantees that the new government would not undercut regional powers; and a double ballot.

Each demand was specifically addressed in Mr Mandela's announcement and each will be passed into law by parliament within the next three weeks. Chief Buthelezi, however, was not impressed. 'Constitutions,' he railed, 'should be all about limiting the power of the state and maximising the power of the people. Dogs do not muzzle themselves and ruling parties do not write constitutions which are designed to ensure frequent changes of government through the electoral process.'

The constitution, even amended, would remain 'fatally flawed' and 'any election under it must be rejected as undemocratic'. Inkatha, Chief Buthelezi said, would oppose the April elections 'with every democratic means at our disposal'.

While Chief Buthelezi's reaction tended to confirm the private view of government and ANC officials that he has no desire to take part in the elections, the polls having shown that he will be soundly beaten, his Freedom Alliance partners in the Volksfront appeared more inclined to consider a deal.

This was curious for two reasons. First because Chief Buthelezi has always portrayed himself as a champion of the black liberation movement, while the Volksfront is generally seen to represent those whites who hanker for a return to the old racist order. Second because the ANC's concessions addressed Inkatha's concerns in detail, while on the question of granting Afrikaners the separate homeland they crave, the volkstaat, the wording was woolly. The 'principle' of self- determination, the ANC said, would figure in the amended constitution and certain 'mechanisms' would be explored to consider the creation of a volkstaat.

But the simple fact that the ANC was prepared to use the word volkstaat at all, having previously ruled out any notion of entertaining such a thing, was a source of some encouragement, some Volksfront officials were saying yesterday. The question last night in political circles was whether the Volksfront would now splinter, with pragmatists perhaps judging the time has come to reach a compromise with the ANC and the fanatical element redoubling their resolve to resort to violence.