Winnie reinstated because President `breached rules'

The saga of Winnie and Nelson Mandela took another extraordinary turn yesterday as the South African President decided he would have to reinstate his sacked and estranged wife to her government post in order to avoid an embarrassing court case.

The combatative Mrs Mandela thus seemed to have won yet another round against the government on technical points, showing that her removal from her post as deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology may have been unconstitutional for a whole string of reasons.

President Mandela said he would consider his next move on his return today from a tour to the Gulf, but that for the time being Mrs Mandela was back at her post since his action was "technically and procedurally invalid". Mrs Mandela's lawyer said that, in return, she would drop her court case against him.

The most simple fault, according to the Johannesburg newspaper the Star, was the absence of the presidential seal of office from the letter sacking her. More complex issues were raised by her constitutional right to know the exact reasons why she was fired.

Mr Mandela never revealed exactly why he curtly dismissed her on 27 March. The reasoncited was that she had defied him in travelling abroad against his orders. But unofficially, Mrs Mandela was an embarrassment even before her popularity among the grass roots in the African National Congress had secured her a government post last year.

A kidnapping conviction in 1991, a contributory factor in the 1992 separation of the couple, has been topped lately by accusations of bribe-taking. She also had turned herself into a rallying point of populist criticism over what she said was the slow pace of change during the first year of the new South African government.

Mrs Mandela probably will only be reinstated for a few hours or days before she is fired once again; this time in accordance to the fine print of the constitution. There is little sense that huge masses of people are standing behind her as she scores legalistic points, as she did when she won back documents seized from her house last month during a police raid.

More unsettling is the ease with which Mr Mandela and his team are thrown off the real business of government, or in the words of one diplomat, how some ministers still seem to be looking for the pencil sharpeners on their desks. The situation is not helped by the fact that Mr Mandela often has been travelling abroad rather than following the details of government at home.

The government also has not found a way to deal adequately with ticklish problems posed by the Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who added insult to his usual injuriesby attaching an affidavit to Mrs Mandela's legal suit that he was not consulted about the sacking, which is his right as leader of a minority party ingovernment.

Mr Buthelezi is seeking greater autonomy for his provincial powerbase of KwaZulu-Natal and withdrew from the writing of South Africa's final constitution on Saturday. "We will not accept their constitution," Mr Buthelezi said after a meeting of hispolicy-making National Council in the Zulu capital, Ulundi.