De Klerk steps in to avert SA crisis

South Africa's government of national unity gained more time to avert the latest challenge to its authority yesterday as the Zulu leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, put off until Saturday a decision to pull out of negotiations on a permanent constitution for the country.

The Deputy President, F W de Klerk, leader of the last apartheid government voted out of power last April, found himself a new role as he proposed a solution to the dispute between the Zulu chief and President Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.

"I am open to constructive counter-proposals. The last thing we now need is a constitutional crisis," Mr de Klerk told the Senate in Cape Town. The dispute is as old as negotiations about the future of the new South Africa. The two sides have again reached a crisis in their debate about how much autonomy should be given to the 75 per cent Zulu province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Although his Inkatha Freedom Party only won half the province's vote in last year's April election, and only 10 per cent nationwide, Mr Buthelezi insists on a federal state with a constitutional monarchy that sometimes appears little short of secession. Mr Mandela's ANC, however, produced last weekend a strongly centralising policy document on the new constitution, called Building a United Nation. This offered powers of veto over provincial legislation to a senate drawn exclusively from provincial legislatures.

As the ANC rules seven of the country's nine provinces, there would be little scope for individuality in provinces like KwaZulu-Natal.

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