KwaZulu inquiry to weigh fraud accusations

President Nelson Mandela and his Zulu rival, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, yesterday agreed to form an all-party commission to investigate alleged fraud ahead of next month's local elections in South Africa's most troubled province, writes Robert Block. The decision came amid accusations and countercharges of rigged voting rolls and political thuggery in KwaZulu- Natal.

Mr Mandela's African National Congress says it has evidence of massive fraud ahead of the 29 May local elections in the province which is ruled by Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. According to Mike Sutcliffe, a leading ANC member in the province, between 30 and 60 per cent of names on rolls throughout the province are fraudulent. The ANC wants the polls postponed.

But Chief Buthelezi, who is also a junior partner and Minister of Home Affairs in Mr Mandela's Government of National Unity, rejects charges that Inkatha is behind any fraud and has threatened to pull out of the government if the polls do not go ahead as planned.

With some polls suggesting there has been a shift in urban areas of the province away from the ANC and to Inkatha, the chief has the scent of political victory in his nostrils and does not want to risk a delay. Chief Buthelezi could use an electoral boost in his province to strengthen his hand in his disagreements with Mr Mandela over the question of provincial autonomy.

But the charges of fraud and the accusations by non-governmental organisations that Inkatha has created vast "no-go" areas in the countryside for people who do not support Inkatha are such that other parties have also recommended that the polls be postponed.

The National Party of Deputy President FW de Klerk recommended a special commission to look into the matter, and Mr Mandela has accepted the plan. "I have decided to appoint a committee of all parties at parliament," the President said after talks with Chief Buthelezi in Cape Town. "That committee will investigate the allegations and I will act on the basis of their recommendations."

Mr Mandela said irregularities to be investigated included the registration of more than 70 people at one address and registration of voters at vacant lots. Asked if it was possible the elections might be postponed, Mr Mandela said: "They [the committee] may say there must be a postponement. I will listen to their recommendation."

Chief Buthelezi said he welcomed the decision to appoint the committee, but made it clear that if the vote were put off his party could still decide to pull out of the government.

According to one report yesterday, the situation is complicated because in many areas the ANC is also rigging voter lists.