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White Rightists, Zulus Register for S. Africa Vote

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After months of threatening to boycott the country’s first democratic elections, leaders of a key Zulu nationalist party and an umbrella group of white extremists rushed to register for the April ballot late Friday night, shortly before a final, midnight deadline expired.

The Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party formally registered but set stiff conditions to run in the historic elections, including use of international mediation to help solve disputes over a broad range of constitutional issues.

The Inkatha party, led by Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, is the country’s third-largest political party and the chief black rival to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. It is based in Natal province, an area that has suffered some of the country’s worst political bloodletting.

Political leaders and analysts said Inkatha’s decision to register may help cut the country’s staggering pre-poll violence and lessen the chance that further clashes and intimidation will undermine the legitimacy of the April 26-28 election that will bring South Africa its first black-led government.

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A leader of the Afrikaner Volksfront, an umbrella group of more than 60 right-wing white separatist groups that have vehemently opposed the election and the country’s interim constitution, also unexpectedly registered for South Africa’s first all-race elections.

But the right-wing leader, retired Gen. Constand Viljoen, said he had provisionally registered the Volksfront without members’ prior approval “due to the limited time available.”

He registered the group under a new name, the Freedom Front, shortly before midnight. It was the last party to join.

The impact of his move was not immediately clear. Viljoen, considered a moderate, was heckled and booed off a stage by thousands of khaki-clad militants last month when he publicly proposed registering the Volksfront for the election rather than using armed force to fight for a whites-only homeland in the post-apartheid nation.

“I realized that the freedom to exercise the strategic options of the Afrikaner people would be severely restricted if we did not register provisionally,” Viljoen said in a statement Friday to the South African Press Assn.

He said he was registering “only in anticipation of possible results of negotiations or international mediation.”

Mandela agreed to international mediation Thursday, two days after meeting with Buthelezi in Durban.

Although several possible candidates for mediator have been floated in the press, no one has been formally named; the timing and terms of outside mediation have not been announced.

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Dr. Frank Mdlalose, Inkatha’s national chairman, told reporters after he had registered the party that “preparation for mediation” was under way. Inkatha has demanded greater autonomy for a Zulu state than is now provided for under the country’s interim constitution.

The dramatic, down-to-the-wire decisions to join the democratic process after many months of uncertainty seemed sure to change the political landscape and campaign arithmetic less than eight weeks before the elections and the end of three centuries of white-minority rule.

Twenty-nine parties, many of them tiny and organized within the previous 24 hours in hopes of winning a ringside seat in Parliament for the birth of the new nation, had registered to join the race by the Friday midnight deadline, said a spokeswoman for the Independent Electoral Commission.

The parties must submit lists of candidates for the national and provincial parliaments by Wednesday to be named on the ballots.

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Inkatha and Volksfront are the most important members of the Freedom Alliance, an odd negotiating coalition of conservative black and right-wing white separatist groups opposed to the ANC and the interim constitution that will be the charter for a five-year government of national unity.

Alliance members want the constitution to provide greater protection for regional autonomy, including guarantees that the ANC cannot overrule their decisions once it takes power.

The ANC has made concessions but has adamantly ruled out allowing independent, sovereign homelands for Zulus, white separatists or other ethnic groups.

The alliance has appeared in disarray in recent days as indications of a split became more apparent. The pro-apartheid Conservative Party announced Friday that it will continue its election boycott, despite reports of a near-mutiny by party members serving in the current Parliament.

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Political leaders and analysts said the Inkatha and Volksfront leaders’ decisions to join the democratic process after months of threatening to fight may help curb the kind of violence that claimed nearly 4,000 lives last year.

A chief cause of the bloodletting is the longstanding rivalry between Inkatha supporters and the ANC, especially in Zulu-dominated Natal province.

“The fact they (Inkatha) are participating brings a greater amount of calmness to the process,” Olaus van Zyl, executive director of President Frederik W. de Klerk’s ruling National Party, said in a telephone interview.

But Tom Lodge, a political scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand, warned that traditional enmities among Zulus and between them and their rivals will not end.

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“It won’t matter much on the ground,” he said. “But it’s an improvement. It’s better to fight for votes than fight to keep people from voting.”

Tokyo Sexwale, ANC candidate for regional premier of the Johannesburg-Pretoria area, said he welcomed Buthelezi’s last-minute decision to join the race but was bitter nonetheless at the brinkmanship of the last few months.

“It was foolhardy for anybody to hold out and threaten the country with civil war just because they were afraid to put themselves before the people’s vote,” he said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think the strategy gained them anything except enemies. We’re all heaving a sigh of relief, it’s true. But that’s because these people were holding the process to ransom. They were holding a pistol to the heads of South Africans.”

The last few weeks have seen considerable political tumult here.

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The massacre of 15 ANC election workers in Natal on Feb. 19, and the death of at least 30 others in poll-related violence there over the same weekend, led to a flurry of political activity.

That led to a meeting Tuesday between Buthelezi and Mandela, his archrival. Although the two men have traded insults and recriminations in recent months, they emerged hand in hand after more than eight hours. Buthelezi then unexpectedly said for the first time that he was considering registering.

As Mandela beamed beside him, Buthelezi insisted that registering for the election would not mean that his party would actually run in the campaign. That decision, he said, would be made only after party officials could evaluate any progress made in mediation or other negotiating forums.

As usual, Buthelezi subsequently issued conflicting statements of his intentions.

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He also complained that it was “unreasonable and unfair” to give Inkatha so little time to organize for the race, considering that the government and ANC launched their national campaigns in January.

Mandela said he believes that the mediation could be completed in less than a month.

Both Mandela and De Klerk have said repeatedly that they will not consider postponing the election.

Actually, Inkatha has been quietly preparing for the race for months in Natal and appears as well organized on the ground as its rivals.

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