South African Election: Parties' front-runners line up for posts in new cabinet

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NELSON MANDELA, who must be as bored as the rest of us watching the trickle of election results on television, will be turning his thoughts to forming South Africa's first black and white cabinet when he becomes President.

The first name will be that of F W de Klerk who, as the new vice- president, Mr Mandela will consult on his final choices.

The second vice-president, as required by the interim constitution, is likely to be either Cyril Ramaphosa or Thabo Mbeki. This will be as powerful a position a vice-president has ever enjoyed. Not only will whoever fills the post be 'one heartbeat' away from the presidency, he will be exercising the function of a prime minister, Mr Mandela having signalled his intention to rise above the party-political fray and concentrate his efforts on national reconciliation. Also, the vice-president will almost certainly be the ANC's presidential candidate in the next election in 1999.

Mr Ramaphosa, the ANC's secretary-general, is a political street- fighter who has risen high from humble beginnings. Mr Mbeki, the ANC's national chairman, is the worldly 'aristocrat', born into a venerable liberation family.

The son of a police sergeant from Soweto, Mr Ramaphosa, 41, was jailed in 1974 and 1976 while involved in Steve Biko's Black Consciousness movement. A lawyer by training, he decided in 1982 to channel his contribution to the black struggle through the budding trade-union movement. He founded the National Union of Mineworkers in 1982. The union initially represented 6,000 workers but by the time he was elected to his present position in July 1991 membership had risen to 340,000.

During his years at the head of the NUM he impressed - at times daunted - the directors of Anglo American and other mine companies with his astute wage-bargaining. He led the ANC team during two years of constitutional negotiations and, in the end, left his rivals standing.

Mr Mbeki, 51, is the son of Govan Mbeki, who occupied his son's present position in the ANC during the Fifties and was sent to Robben Island maximum-security prison, where he spent 23 years, in 1964. Mr Mbeki junior went into exile in 1962 and obtained an MA in economics from Sussex University in 1966. A lapsed Communist, Mr Mbeki was elected to the ANC's national executive commitee in 1975 and rose first to the position of director of information and then, in 1989, to director of international affairs. Well travelled and at ease with European heads of state, Mr Mbeki is not a man to set a township rally on fire. But he has played a vital role behind the scenes both in setting ANC policy and handling the tricky negotiations with the generals of the far right.

If Mr Mbeki fails in his vice- presidential bid he is assured - as too is Mr Ramaphosa if he fails - of a senior ministerial post.

Other ANC runners are Joe Slovo, chairman of the Communist Party and Mr Ramaphosa's chief ally in the negotiations, and Pallo Jordan, the director of information. Mr Slovo, a Jew born in Lithuania 67 years ago, spent 30 years in exile until the ANC's unbanning in 1990. As a former chief of staff of the ANC's military wing and public enemy number one of the apartheid state, he has a following among the ANC 'comrades' second only to Mr Mandela, as an internal poll in December showed. He has been waging a battle against cancer these last three years but, so far, has withstood the rigours of the new South Africa with a vigour uncannily shared by most of the ANC's elder statesman.

Mr Jordan, 51, is an intellectual who consolidated his reputation as a maverick when he wrote a widely publicised paper in 1990 harshly criticising an apologia of Communism by Joe Slovo. Ten years ago he was detained for six weeks in Angola by the ANC's notorious security department. Sharp-tongued and witty, he peppers his conversation with Yiddish expressions such as chutzpah and schmuck, picked up no doubt from his former wife, Carlyn Roth, a New Yorker. He has a high media profile, provides more input than most at NEC meetings and should remain an influential figure in the cabinet.

From the National Party, which is likely to have at least four cabinet ministers, Roelf Meyer, 46, will almost certainly be the first choice both of Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk. A well-liked former deputy minister of law and order, Mr Meyer developed a valuable and what some of his peers considered to be an over-friendly relationship with his opposite number in the constitutional negotiations, Mr Ramaphosa. He occupied the defence portfolio for six months to disastrous effect, failing entirely to win the confidence of the generals. But since the middle of 1992, when he was appointed Minister of Constitutional Development, he has emerged as Mr de Klerk's most trusted lieutenant.

Each party is constitutionally entitled to one cabinet minister for each 5 per cent of votes accumulated, so a contender to remain in the cabinet with Mr Meyer is Kobie Coetsee, who has been Minister of Justice since 1980 and began talks with the imprisoned Mr Mandela in the mid-Eighties. There is talk that the charmingly-roguish Pik Botha, the world's longest-serving foreign minister, might perpetuate his hold on the portfolio into a 17th year and a fourth president. The appointment of Mr Botha would attract some resistance within the ANC.

Someone else whose cabinet candidacy would meet opposition from the ANC leadership, never mind outside it, is Winnie Mandela, a convicted child-kidnapper alleged to have embezzled 400,000 rand ( pounds 80,000) from ANC funds. She is placed lower on the electoral list - at 31 - than all the other ANC candidates. But Mr Mandela will feel duty-bound, having trumpeted his non-sexist principles since his release, to include at the very least one woman in cabinet. As a former social worker she could land the health portfolio but the outcry her appointment would certainly provoke might be something Mr Mandela, in his zeal to unify the country, might choose to avoid.

(Photograph omitted)