A special Inkatha congress in Zululand ordered the 48 MPs back to the 500-seat parliament, two weeks after Mr Buthelezi led them out. He had accused Mr Mandela of bad faith in talks on the constitutional future of his power base, the province of KwaZulu/Natal.
Mr Mandela talked to Mr Buthelezi, who is also Home Minister in the government of national unity, but offered no concessions. Instead, he ordered more troops into the province to head off more political murders and destabilisation. "Finally Buthelezi's bluff is being called. He was shown these kind of cheap tricks will not work," said Mike Sutcliffe, a member of the KwaZulu/Natal parliament for Mr Mandela's African National Congress. But Mr Buthelezi kept up his brinkmanship. If Inkatha's demands were not met in a month, its congress said, the party would walk out of parliament during its sittings as an assembly charged with drawing up the definitive version of the new South African constitution.
In KwaZulu/Natal, such tension seems inevitably linked to political murders in the turf battle between Inkatha and the ANC. More than 100 people died in January and the figure is not expected to be much less for February. Mr Buthelezi's main demand is for international mediators to address his demands for greater federal powers. They were offered by Mr Mandela in order to draw Inkatha into last April's all-race elections. The ANC now argues that the constitutional assembly has not even broached the subject of federalism, so there is nothing to mediate yet. "President Mandela has opted to be arrogant and aggressive, choosing to insult us," Mr Buthelezi told the congress on Saturday.
While Mr Mandela appears to be outmanoeuvring Mr Buthelezi, more obstacles seem to have come in the way of his apparent determination to dismiss his estranged wife, Winnie, from her post as a deputy minister. Her house was raided last week by police looking for documents to support allegations that she took kickbacks from a construction company. An appeal against the validity of the search warrant has blocked use of the documents for several days.
"The police are saying their investigations might take a couple of weeks ... It would be unjust to take action which presumed Mrs Mandela was innocent or guilty," said deputy president Thabo Mbeki, charged by Mr Mandela to deal with the scandal.
Whether to dismiss Mrs Mandela for her allegedly sleazy dealings remains a tough challenge for the ANC, complicated by her disregard for authority and her support among populists in the ANC and the dispossessed masses of the black townships. "The saga of Mrs Winnie Mandela has gone beyond law and beyond politics. It has become a test of the values of this new democracy," wrote the columnist Ken Owen in Johannesburg's Sunday Times. The scandals were "giving substance to suggestions that South Africa must follow in the wake of ... corrupt African slums. Our future rides on such perceptions."Reuse content