Buthelezi says he may break away from SA

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The Independent Online
THE LEADER of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, was strongly criticised by South Africa's main political parties yesterday following a constitutional proposal exposing his ambition to go it alone, if need be, in his drive to stake out a politically autonomous regional power base. Secession, he made clear, was not out of the question.

The proposal for a regional constitution was adopted as policy yesterday unanimously and without debate by the legislative assembly of the KwaZulu 'homeland', which adjoins Natal province and over which the IFP exercises one-party control. The main idea is to create a state called KwaZulu-Natal within a federal South Africa.

Chief Buthelezi said in a statement that the proposed constitution would be submitted to the South African government and other parties for discussion before holding a referendum, at which point it would become entrenched as 'the supreme law of the state'. The constitution contemplates maximum devolution of power from central government, including mandatory privatisation of public companies and the establishment by law of a 'state militia' headed by the state governor.

Chief Buthelezi left no doubt as to who that governor might be. He also made it plain, at a time when opinion polls show his party commands 5 per cent of the country's electoral support, that he has abandoned all prior pretensions to national leadership.

One sentence in his statement showed he is prepared, if the occasion arises, not only to disregard the broader constitutional negotiations on which the government, the African National Congress and most other South African political organisations are engaged, but to declare KwaZulu-Natal independent. 'It is intended that, once ratified by the electorate of KwaZulu-Natal, the new constitution will stand in force, regardless of the direction taken by the constitutional process of South Africa.'

The government, the ANC, the liberal Democratic Party and independent political observers reacted negatively to Chief Buthelezi's proposal. Not least on account of the timing, for today leaders of the government and the ANC, including President F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, are to begin three days of talks at a secret venue. Several weeks of private bilateral meetings have yielded a measure of convergence, not seen since multi-party negotiations broke down in May, on such matters as an interim government and a constituent assembly. A breakthrough this week has been widely predicted.

In an official response to Inkatha's proposal, the ruling National Party said it saw the plan as negative because of 'the spirit in which the statement was issued, on the eve of the government- ANC talks. We feel this sort of aggression is not necessary . . . Any intention lurking behind the document to go it alone and declare some sort of UDI would be most unwise and pointless.'

The ANC issued a brief statement yesterday evening describing the announcement by Chief Buthelezi as 'a bolt from the blue' and 'a very drastic departure from the constitutional process that the country has thus far been following'.

Kader Asmal, one of the ANC's most senior constitutional policy- makers, was less coy: 'It's an attempt at a putsch. In terms of the negotiations, it's basically to say 'Take it or leave it'. The message is clear: 'If you don't accept we will secede'.'

The Democratic Party's Denis Worral, a former ambassador to London, said Chief Buthelezi was 'putting the cat among the pigeons. This is not the way to go about things. He does it just as most other people are moving towards consensus in the process. And, besides, he leaves no room for debate. He says this will be implemented regardless. This is simply not acceptable.'

The executive director of the DP, James Selfe, said that Chief Buthelezi was 'effectively opting out. He's driven by a very real fear, fuelled by his increasing realisation that he's being marginalised in the political process. What the IFP is doing is seeking to try to become powerful in the one region where it is powerful.'

A European diplomat said there was no question of the government allowing the referendum to go ahead. 'And Buthelezi knows it. It's a political manoeuvre which, unfortunately, has the potential to complicate the IFP's already delicate relations with the government and the ANC.'