SA dodges key charter issues

ROBERT BLOCK

Johannesburg

The first draft of South Africa's new constitution was released yesterday for public scrutiny, but many of the key issues it was supposed to have addressed remained unresolved.

President Nelson Mandela urged all citizens to read the 15-chapter document, which will soon be published in full in local newspapers. He also asked that the members of the Constitutional Assembly drafting the charter consider all constructive public input.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the assembly chairman, has called the draft a "milestone" in the transformation of South Africa. However, senior negotiators said much hard bargaining on unresolved issues tearing at the country still lay ahead.

They include the question of the lifespan of the present Government of National Unity (GNU), a bill of rights, the organisation of local government, and the degree of autonomy for the country's nine provinces.

The assembly of 490 members of parliament has until 10 May next year - the second anniversary of Mr Mandela's inauguration as president - to finalise a permanent constitution. The assembly will renew its deliberations on the document when it reconvenes in January.

Mr Mandela's African National Congress - just shy of the two-thirds majority to pass a final constitution on its own - has said it wants to replace power-sharing in the GNU with majority rule. Mr Mandela, however, has said minority leaders should be included in any future government at the discretion of the ruling party.

Of all the unresolved issues, the most contentious will probably be over provincial autonomy, which is the central demand of the ANC's arch-rivals in the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

n The deaf have persuaded the assembly to included sign language as South Africa's 12th official language.

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