Mandela's loss of touch puts ANC on the defensive

FROM ROBERT BLOCK

in Durban

Nelson Mandela is stumbling. For the first time in his long political career, the Nobel laureate and South Africa's great conciliator is making uncharacteristic blunders that threaten to tarnish his image and unleash a new round of factional bloodshed in the troubled province of KwaZulu- Natal.

The first and perhaps most embarrassing of Mr Mandela's blunders concerns Reverend Allan Boesak, who has been accused of having embezzled funds allocated to his Foundation for Peace and Justice by the Danish Charity DanChurch. When the scandal of the allegedly missing 2m to 3m rand (£350,000 to £500,000) broke in February, the charismatic Dr Boesak was South Africa's ambassador designate to the UN in Geneva.

The announcement of an investigation by the Office for Serious Economic Offences (Oseo) prompted him to withdraw his nomination. At the same time, the ANC pre-empted Oseo by announcing its own inquiry under Mojanki Gumbi, a young legal adviser to the Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki. Last week, Ms Gumbi released a three-page report of her findings claiming that, far from misappropriating funds, Dr Boesak was owed money. The ANC called her work "a sterling investigation". The opposition and media immediately battered the government. Even pro-ANC newspapers published front-page articles under large headlines which generally included the word "whitewash".

Last Wednesday, after a rebuttal of her report by DanChurch's lawyers, a humbled Ms Gumbi admitted her findings were inconclusive. But it was too late to stop Mr Mandela and Mr Mbeki from announcing that Dr Boesak had been cleared. The President said "Allan Boesak is one of the most gifted young men in the country .... He deserves a very high diplomatic post." Portugal was suggested as the most likely posting.

Stories attributed to knowledgeable politicians then began to surface at the weekend saying that the real reason for the government's tortured efforts to reinstate Dr Boesak was to repay him for brokering a multi- million dollar foreign donation last year for the party. The bubble finally burst on Tuesday night, when the President's top advisers announced that no final decision had been taken on Dr Boesak's future.

If it did not undermine the President's prestige, the whole Boesak affair would be laughable. Such is not the case, however, with the other issue that Mr Mandela is stumbling over: trouble in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mr Mandela has engaged in brinkmanship with his main rival, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who also happens to be Home Affairs Minister in his coalition cabinet and the leader of the predominantly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

On Monday, during a May Day rally in Umlazi, near Durban, Mr Mandela told 20,000 militant KwaZulu-Natal ANC supporters that Inkatha was using government funds to foment violence in the province. He then threatened to cut off government funds to the Inkatha-led provincial government. His outburst was attacked by opposition groups as being irresponsible and inflammatory in a province where violence between the ANC and IFP is on the increase.

On Tuesday night, Mr Mandela's advisers sought to defuse the row by saying that cutting off government funds was unconstitutional and that the President would "always act within the constitution". But they defended Mr Mandela's remarks as a response to the political manoeuvrings and threats against the government by Inkatha.

Mr Mandela changed tack again yesterday and renewed his threat to cut funding to KwaZulu-Natal, and said if he did not have the power to enforce his threat, he would acquire it by amending the constitution if necessary. "If the situation that is taking place in Natal is allowed to go on, I have no alternative, and I want everyone to know, that I will use everything to protect the lives of innocent people in the province," he said.

Already the political fatality rate is climbing, including massacres of both ANC and IFP supporters. Mervyn Frost, a lecturer at Natal University, said brinkmanship was a dangerous mistake. "Up until now President Mandela has not put his foot wrong. He has always responded as a statesman. But this outburst will have the effect of strengthening Inkatha's anger."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor