THE ground-breaking agreement that has brought the rejectionist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) into the country's first all-race election at the 11th hour may not be entirely what it seems.
It now appears that Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's turnaround was not a total capitulation nor a lasting change of heart, but that the deal could lead to Inkatha achieving the aim of federalism that Chief Buthelezi has been holding out for. The goal of greater regional autonomy may now be accomplished through the monarchy rather than an elected provincial assembly.
Although Buthelezi perhaps could have won better terms if he had settled with the African National Congress at a four-way summit on April 1, he has nevertheless secured a special deal for KwaZulu/Natal and a special status for Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini. Natal will be granted powers no other province has and the Zulu monarch a set of powers and privileges no other traditional leaders have been accorded.
ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa conceded in an address to foreign journalists yesterday that this had already led to dissatisfaction by ANC-supporting traditional leaders in other provinces. This could lead to a series of demands from them that would further complicate constitutional negotiations after the vote.
``There is a distinct smell of tactics rather than a fundamental resolution of political issues,'' says a Western diplomat close to the talks.
NATAL University political scientist Mervyn Frost says Buthelezi could have achieved via the back door what he was not able to do publicly. ``But I think we will end up with a better constitution as a result,'' he says.
Buthelezi stands to benefit in other ways as well. The entry of Inkatha in the election stakes could deny the ANC an outright victory in Natal and could even lead to a winning coalition of Inkatha and the National Party in the province.
``The IFP will win more now than if they had settled earlier. This way they have kept the political spotlight right to the end,'' Professor Frost says. ``If the IFP does well in the poll, it will greatly strengthen its position to get what it wants in constitutional negotiations after the election.''
Three factors appear to have been critical in his decision to capitulate to the ANC-government terms for joining the poll at the last minute.
First, the insistence of the international mediators - led by former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger - that they would not mediate on the dispute over the election date was a crushing blow for Buthelezi, who had pinned his hopes on a postponement of the poll.
Second, the carefully crafted strategy by the ANC - and more recently the government - to accommodate and guarantee the status and powers of King Goodwill after the election paid dividends in the end.
Third, the imposition and gradual tightening of the state of emergency played a key role in persuading Buthelezi that the game was up.
Mr. Ramaphosa, the key negotiator in talks leading to the deal, told the Monitor that Inkatha capitulated because Buthelezi realized he was going into the political wilderness. ``In the end, Buthelezi finally came face-to-face with the reality that if the IFP did not take part, they were going to be completely marginalized and the IFP's constitutional base eroded,'' Ramaphosa said.
There are also indications Buthelezi faced a hostile majority in the Inkatha Central Committee, which was determined to take part in the vote. ``But I am convinced that the overriding factor was Buthelezi's fear that the king was going to accept the ANC's offer,'' says military analyst Jakkie Cilliers, director of the independent Institute for Defense Politics here.
Mr. Cilliers says that the accord should lead to a reduction in political violence, but that drive-by shootings and massacres carried out by faceless gunmen could increase. ``But the threat of virtual civil war in the townships around Johannesburg and northern Natal has been removed,'' he says. Cilliers says there was still a threat of an escalation of violence after the election when Inkatha supporters - who opinion polls indicate have high expectations of winning in KwaZulu/Natal - found that they had lost the poll.
``Buthelezi still retains the option of rejecting the election result,'' the diplomat says. ``If he rejects the poll result, it could lead to unprecedented levels of violence after the election.''
Peace monitors have also warned of the prospect of renewed violence if Inkatha attempts to bus into the province an estimated 500,000 to 1 million migrant workers who work outside Natal to boost Inkatha's vote.