SOUTH Africa's government of national unity, which includes two of the country's most controversial politicians, has been hailed by political scientists and diplomats as an ingenious balancing act.
``If the objective is to defuse ethnic conflicts and future political power struggles, it would have been difficult to do better than this,'' a Western diplomat says.
The national unity Cabinet - 27 ministers and 13 deputy ministers - was sworn in by Chief Justice Michael Corbett in Pretoria, where successive National Party (NP) Cabinets initiated and administered the apartheid laws that made South Africa an international pariah state.
The 40 ministers and deputy ministers represent a careful balance of the major ethnic, racial, ideological, and political divides in South Africa's extraordinarily diverse population.
``In terms of quality, it is no worse than successive National Party Cabinets that have governed the country for the past four decades. And for the first time, we have all the elements of South African society represented in the top decisionmaking body,'' says Mervyn Frost, a political scientist at Natal University.
The most striking elements of the new Cabinet are the inclusion of Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the senior post of Home Affairs and Winnie Mandela, the controversial estranged wife of President Nelson Mandela, as the deputy minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology.
Chief Buthelezi's accommodation in the sensitive Home Affairs post - which includes immigration and organizing elections - has raised eyebrows in political and diplomatic circles.
But Professor Frost believes that his inclusion can defuse the bitter conflict between the African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha in Natal, which has claimed more than 15,000 lives over the past 10 years.
``To have both Chief Buthelezi and Mrs. Mandela subject to the collective responsibility of the Cabinet is no mean achievement,'' he says. ``In the case of Mrs. Mandela, this will prevent her building an alternative power base outside the government.''
President Mandela's ANC, which won the election with a 62 percent majority, has 18 of the 27 Cabinet posts, including the two major security posts of defense and police.
The NP, the outgoing government, has six posts, and Buthelezi's Inkatha has five. The ANC has eight deputy ministers, the NP three, and Inkatha one.
ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa, who surprised his supporters by refusing a Cabinet post after he lost the contest for the first deputy presidency to Thabo Mbeki, is being tipped to head the Constitutional Assembly, which will finalize the interim constitution.
This would bring him back into a working relationship with the former chief government negotiator, Roelf Meyer, who retains the constitutional development post, and the ANC's Valli Moosa - Mr. Ramaphosa's right-hand man in the negotiations who is now deputy minister of constitutional development.
The Cabinet strikes a careful balance between an ANC government and its left-leaning components that could pose a future threat - trade unions, civic associations, and the small but influential South African Communist Party.
SACP Chairman Joe Slovo, who played a key role in the negotiations, has the housing post, in which he will be under constant pressure to provide houses for the 7 million South Africans who live in squatter shacks and informal dwellings.
Alec Erwin, a leading Communist and trade unionist, has been appointed deputy minister of finance - an intriguing counterpoint to Finance Minister Derek Keys, a hard-nosed monetarist and the most senior NP minister to retain his post.
Jay Naidoo, the former leader of the ANC-aligned Trade Union Federation, has been appointed minister for the ANC's Reconstruction and Development Program - a detailed socioeconomic development plan to address the legacy of apartheid. Mandela has set the RDP as a top priority, and will be judged on the extent to which his administration can improve the living standards of black South Africans.
``What the RDP is trying to do is to use existing state resources and redeploy them in the most needy areas like housing, health, education, and job creation,'' says Tom Lodge, a political scientist at Witwatersrand University. ``One should, perhaps, have a stronger mix of technocratic skills in the Cabinet to ensure this objective is achieved.''
But Frost says that the leading civil servants in each government department would ensure continuity and a measure of expertise: ``For the immediate future, it is going to be business as usual.''