South Africa shaken by sudden resignation of De Klerk's party

 

SPECULATION mounted in South Africa yesterday that President Nelson Mandela's Government of National Unity might be on the point of disintegration after the withdrawal of the National Party (NP) of Mr F W de Klerk.

The Deputy President, Mr De Klerk, in withdrawing his conservative party from Mr Mandela's government, has transformed South Africa's political landscape and further battered the ailing brand. The NP's withdrawal is to take effect from June 30th.

Mr Mandela's reaction to the NP's sudden departure was cool and measured. He thanked Mr De Klerk for his contribution to making the country's transition to democracy a smooth one.

"The NP recognises that our young democracy has come of age, and would need a vigorous opposition unfettered by its participation in the executive," Mr Mandela said. "We respect their judgment."

He continued. "We evolved the strategy ... that every South African could look at this government and see that he was represented. I would still have liked to work with Mr De Klerk."

Accompanied by his Deputy President, Mr Thabo Mbeki, and the Finance Minister, Mr Trevor Manuel, Mr Mandela told a press conference that policies of fiscal discipline and economic growth would not change. "Instead," he said, "they will be promoted with even more focus."

The NP decision came the day after South Africa's new constitution won an overwhelming majority in parliament. Mr De Klerk, Mr Mandela's predecessor as president, had said on Wednesday that the NP was considering leaving the government dominated by Mr Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) because of disagreement over some clauses of the new basic law, which the NP voted for.

"The NP has felt for some time now that our influence within the Government of National Unity has been declining," Mr De Klerk said yesterday. "The ANC has been acting more and more as if they no longer need a multi party government.

The NP was the second largest component of the tripartite government, which also includes the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom party (IFP). The IFP has frequently threatened to pull out of the cabinet and boycotted the constitution making process.

Business reaction to news of the NP withdrawal was mixed. Mr Michael Spicer, a spokesman in Johannesburg for the giant Anglo American Corporation, called it a "natural step" in the process of democratic transition, adding that the business community expected the withdrawal "eventually anyway."

Mr Tony Leon, leader of the liberal opposition Democratic Party (DP), was the most virulent critic of the move, calling it "politically expedient, petulant and... a complete negation" of past NP policy on power sharing.