S. Africa's Government Shows First Fault Lines
JOHANNESBURG — THE honeymoon is over.
South Africa's fledgling government of national unity, an awkward coalition of three political opponents, is showing the first signs of strain since the country's first democratic elections in April that delivered an unexpectedly smooth transition to majority rule.
Legislators in both the majority African National Congress and the National Party, which ruled the country for more than four decades, are restive over the compromises demanded of them. They are also annoyed at having to take responsibility for ministerial statements that advocate party policy rather than reflecting the delicate consensus in the national unity Cabinet - a coalition of the ANC, the NP, and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
IFP Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi has also indicated that the IFP could pull out of the coalition unless the central government relinquishes powers designated for the provinces by the interim constitution.
He has predicted that the national unity government, which is intended to govern for five years, will not survive longer than the two years it will take to finalize the constitution.
Fault lines and tensions between - and within - the ANC and the NP are becoming apparent as growing labor unrest, spiraling crime, and unfulfilled black expectations bear down on the unity government.
``The 100-day honeymoon is over, and we demand results,'' said the militant Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union in a statement issued Aug. 1 that threatened an imminent strike.
The sentiment was reflected in Parliament when a new session began Monday amid a more acrimonious atmosphere than previous sessions characterized by camaraderie and reconciliation.
``The supporters of the ANC are starting to realize that they have been led up the garden path by all the false expectations and wild promises...,'' says Andre Fourie, an NP legislator, reflecting growing sensitivity about reports alleging that the NP has all but disappeared since the election.
This has led to pressure from within National Party ranks for the NP to become more assertive and even to withdraw from the unity government unless its demands are met.
``The future of the government of national unity will be determined by the struggle for the hearts and minds of the ANC between the various factions within the organization,'' says Robert Schrire, a Cape Town University political scientist. He says that the ANC represents several ideological strains but a realignment could not take place at present because of the rule that prevents legislators from changing parties between elections.
DEPUTY President Frederik de Klerk, who - like the NP - has had an almost invisible profile since the election, ruled out the chance of an NP withdrawal from the coalition but outlined several issues that could threaten the coalition unless they were consensually resolved.
These include fundamental disagreements over the powers and functions of a truth commission to deal with the past, attempts to downgrade the Afrikaans language on state-run television, management of the economy, and the alliance between the ANC and the South African Communist Party.
Recent comments by Justice Minister Dullah Omar regarding the proposed truth commission have angered NP legislators.
``There is no truth that there is a government policy decision yet on a truth commission,'' Mr. De Klerk said. He added that he would support any Cabinet decision that was the result of consensus but he would not be associated with unilateral statements by ministers that conflicted with NP policy.
``The government of national unity is not there to execute ANC policy,'' he told a news conference Aug.1.
De Klerk said that he and his colleagues in government had deliberately kept a low profile to allow time for setting up the necessary arrangements to make the coalition work smoothly.
``The first phase was the consolidation of something completely new after the election,'' De Klerk said. The second phase would be to give substance to policy issues such as the Reconstruction and Development Program, education policy, and the functioning of the intelligence services.
He admitted that there was some confusion in the ranks of the NP, because the coalition government was a completely new concept for South Africa. ``It is difficult to be a partner and an opponent.... You are walking a tightrope....'' De Klerk added that a break with the confrontational style was necessary so that legislators put the national interest before party political dictates.
Mervyn Frost, a Natal University political scientist, says withdrawing from the coalition was not a viable option for the NP, because it would weaken the party while not threatening the unassailable position of the ANC as the majority party. ``What is worrying about the new government is that its major preoccupation so far has been with position and power. There has been very little debate about policy,'' he says.