Buthelezi is made acting president in peace move by Mandela


PRESIDENT Nelson Mandela has named his bitter rival, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, as acting president during his planned absence from South Africa next week.

In what political analysts said was a conciliatory gesture towards the leader of the Zulu based Inkatha Freedom Party, Mr Mandela said in a speech to the Senate: "I have decided to appoint the Minister of Home Affairs, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, as acting president of the country.

The announcement provoked uncertain laughter in the Senate, gas if members were not sure, whether Mr Mandela (78) was joking.

Mr Mandela will be attending, the World Economic Forum in Switzerland for two days from tomorrow. The deputy president, Mr Thabo Mbeki, who normally acts as president during Mr Mandela's absence, is already in Davos.

"It's a cute move," commented Mr Constand Viljoen, leader of the opposition Freedom Front.

Chief Buthelezi's IFP is the junior partner to Mr Mandela's ruling African National Congress in the government of national unity. But the chief regularly attacks the ANC. About 15,000 people have been killed in feuding between their supporters.

"Across the length and breadth of South Africa, communities are suffering because of the weakness, indecision and ineffectiveness of the ANC government," Chief Buthelezi said recently.

Mr Mandela said he was appointing Chief Buthelezi on merit. ,"He is an able and experienced leader of our country. That was the consideration . . . If it will promote reconciliation we will all be happy. But the reason is that he is a highly competent and experienced leader."

Senator Geoffrey Bhengu of Inkatha said his art was surprised but pleased at Mr Mandela's decision.

"He never fails to surprise us. His announcement about Chief Buthelezi was another surprise. On behalf of my party, I welcome it," Mr Bhengu said.

A political analyst, Dr Tom Lodge, said the move would please Chief Buthelezi's supporters. "It's a gesture that's at one with the bigness of the man [Mr, Mandela]. It will go down well in KwaZulu Natal."

Mr Mandela's speech marked" the final sitting of the Senate," which is being replaced this year by a council aimed at giving South Africa's nine provinces a greater say in legislation.

He also offered an olive branch to the National Party (NP), the biggest opposition party. He praised the party's leader in the Senate, Mr Kobie Coetsee, for his role in negotiating an end to apartheid.

Mr Coetsee was justice minister, in the 1980s when the white minority government began talks's with Mr Mandela, who was still ink jail serving a life term for treason.

"When the history of our transition comes to be written, the name of Kobie Coetsee will be listed among the miracle workers," Mr Mandela said.

Mr Mandela has in recent weeks approached two of South Africa's smallest parties, the black radical Pan Africanist Congress and the white liberal Democratic Party, with a view to obtaining their participation in his government.

Chief Buthelezi denied on Thursday that his party was under severe internal strain because of his leadership style. Some senior IFP members have quit recently and political analysts are predicting more defections.