How the peace was won: Richard Dowden reveals that harsh words from a Kenyan professor made Buthelezi accept South African poll deal

Richard Dowden
Wednesday 20 April 1994 00:02 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


IN THE end it was an African solution which secured yesterday's historic agreement to bring Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his Inkatha Freedom Party into South Africa's election next week and offered the hope that the poll will be peaceful.

The architect of the deal, hailed yesterday by Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress leader, as 'a leap forward for peace', was a former Kenyan diplomat, Professor Washington Okumu, a junior member of the Kissinger-Carrington international negotiating team which departed from South Africa in failure last Thursday. Hours after yesterday's signing ceremony in Pretoria, Professor Okumu last night described to the Independent how he had succeeded where Henry Kissinger and Lord Carrington had failed.

He said he had spelt out to Chief Buthelezi the harsh facts of political life in Africa as he was leaving for the airport with the other negotiators. That seems to have knocked away the Inkatha leader's diminishing resistance to the elections. 'I told him that everyone, both in South Africa and the rest of the world, (said) that he would lose everything after the election and would lose any influence in future negotiations. I warned him that Nelson Mandela would not treat him kindly.'

In an astonishing last-minute climbdown Chief Buthelezi began to waver and asked Professor Okumu to stay on. After four days of frantic shuttling - in a private jet provided by the United States - between President F W de Klerk, Mr Mandela and Chief Buthelezi, the three leaders signed a declaration yesterday which enshrined the status of the Zulu king in the constitution. In return, Chief Buthelezi agreed to take part in the elections.

An Inkatha delegate at the meeting read out a statement from the Zulu king which said: 'The Zulu nation should now freely support this process, including voting and participation in the elections.' Until now King Goodwill Zwelithini has been advising his followers not to vote.

The agreement promises an eventual end to political violence in South Africa, virtually guarantees free and fair elections and provides a platform for lasting peace and stability. 'This agreement is a leap forward for peace, for reconciliation, for nation-building and the inclusivity of the elections,' Mr Mandela said. 'We have made fantastic progress.' The agreement, he added, honoured the human spirit. It also ensured that on 10 May, Mr Mandela will be inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa.

The agreement's author is a 58-year-old economics professor, a former diplomat who has worked for the United Nations and was once secretary to President Jomo Kenyatta. Professor Okumu first met Mr Mandela before the ANC leader was jailed in 1962. He has known Chief Buthelezi for 20 years and he said last night that both sides needed someone they could trust.

'I told Chief Buthelezi that the outside world, the UN and the OAU would not be sympathetic to his refusal to participate,' he said.

But the problems were not only with Chief Buthelezi. The professor said that the left wing of the ANC, and in particular Mac Maharaj and Joe Slovo, wanted to crush Chief Buthelezi militarily after the election. Mr Mandela at first refused to accept that the position of the Zulu king should be enshrined in the national constitution because he was afraid other chiefs would want similar status. But he finally gave way.

President de Klerk wanted Inkatha to vote as part of the National Party in the national elections and stand in KwaZulu only in the provincial elections. In the end both men gave way. The deal Professor Okumu worked out was Inkatha should participate, Chief Buthelezi would call off Inkatha's mass action and reject violence, and the king's status would be recognised and institutionalised.

'Chief Buthelezi always believed he had enough money and weapons to cause chaos and was preparing for guerrilla war - he was prepared to do that,' said Professor Okumu.

According to the agreement Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party will take part in both the national and provincial elections, which will be held from 26 to 28 April, and parliament will convene on Monday to entrench the status of the Zulu monarchy in the constitution. The technical difficulties involved in adding Inkatha's name to the 80 million ballot papers that have already been printed will be overcome by adding a strip at the bottom of each paper with the Inkatha logo, a small photograph of its leader and an extra box on which an 'X' can be marked.

'All the undersigned parties reject violence and will therefore do everything in their power to ensure free and fair elections throughout the Republic of South Africa,' the agreement said. The document was signed after the three leaders held a three-hour meeting to finalise the details of the deal at the presidential office in Pretoria.

President de Klerk described what had been accomplised as 'a triumph for the South African nation'. The agreement removed 'the last main reason for tension and violence in the country'.

Chief Buthelezi, who appeared more relaxed than he has done in public for a long time, said Inkatha had decided to make compromises 'in order to avoid a great deal more bloodshed and carnage'. 'South Africa may well have been saved from disastrous consequences.'

Inkatha's welcome, page 12

Leading article, page 15

(Photograph omitted)

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