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SA right-wingers head in different directions

THE Freedom Alliance, South Africa's black and white right- wing coalition, looked to be crumbling yesterday, riven by internal and external pressures precipitated by the urgency finally to decide whether to participate in the first democratic elections next month.

Of the three bodies that make up the Alliance - the Afrikaner Volksfront, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Bophuthatswana government - it was the President of the purportedly independent 'homeland' of Bophuthatswana, Lucas Mangope, who faced the greatest strain.

Mr Mangope's decision on Monday not to register for the elections generated street protests, illegal African National Congress gatherings, clashes with the police and only intensified the resolve of public servants who have been out on strike since last week. After police vehicles had been set alight, ANC offices petrol- bombed and striking workers tear-gassed on Monday, yesterday 350 employees of the Bophuthatswana Broadcasting Corporation took over the TV station at the 'Bop' capital, Mmabatho, and took the corporation's chairman, Eddie Mangope, hostage.

The protest ended after masked members of the 'homeland' police forced their way into the building through a cloud of tear-gas, liberated Mr Mangope, the President's son, and seized the rebellious employees, many of whom were armed with sticks and iron bars.

During a TV appearance on Monday President Mangope, who enjoys minuscule support according to opinion polls, declared that his country's attachment to 'independence and freedom' was underestimated by people who believed that his government had rejected electoral participation because it was afraid of defeat.

Joining the fray, South Africa's Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, who by law must still treat 'Bop' as a foreign country, hinted yesterday that his government might send in the army to resolve the crisis.

There is a precedent. In February 1988 Mr Mangope and his cabinet were arrested after a coup by a pro-ANC faction. The coup was crushed after 17 hours when Pretoria sent in its army. This time, Mr Botha said there was 'no hope whatsoever' for Mr Mangope if he carried on in the rejectionist vein.

Nelson Mandela, the ANC president, said yesterday that he had held a number of meetings with Mr Mangope in recent weeks to try to persuade him to join the electoral fold. But this, he said, had proved a futile exercise. 'Talking to Mangope is like talking to a stone.' He added: 'I would have preferred that Mangope would have agreed on a diplomatic solution before he was forced to capitulate to pressure. But that appears inevitable now.'

The Volksfront alsolooked in danger of falling apart yesterday. Their main leader, General Constand Viljoen, was overruled at a Volksfront meeting on Saturday after his decision on Friday night to register for the elections. However, it was revealed yesterday that General Viljoen and other far- right pragmatists had been meeting during the past 48 hours to study the possibility of forming a breakaway party to take part in the poll.

As for the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, his decision on Friday to register his party for the elections created a rift with his Freedom Alliance partners. But he has been blowing hot and cold in his public statements since then and no guarantee exists yet that he will in the end submit his party to the vote.