January 8, 2003

SOUTH AFRICA: Political crisis averted in volatile KZN province

A possible eruption of political violence in the historically volatile province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) looked to have been averted on Wednesday, January 8.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) government had threatened to impose direct control of the province if the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which governs KZN, opted to dissolve the provincial parliament and call for early elections.

The confrontation was brought about by the IFP's sacking of two IFP members of the provincial legislature (MPLs) who had defected to the ANC prior to controversial floor-crossing legislation being rejected by the Constitutional Court on technicalities. Three other MPLs of smaller opposition parties in the province were also sacked for crossing over to the ANC.

The ANC was set to pass revised legislation in the national parliament which contained a retrospective clause, allowing for the five sacked MPLs to return to their seats. This would have opened the way for the ANC, along with its alliance partners in KZN, to take control of the provincial legislature and the province's premiership.

KZN Premier Lionel Mtshali (IFP), who had earlier sacked two ANC MPs from his cabinet, had threatened to dissolve the legislature on January 8 to force an early election. This would have allowed the IFP to once again seek a mandate from voters to govern the province and keep it out of ANC hands. National government in turn said such a move could cause instability in the province - a former hotbed of political violence - and it was mooted that President Thabo Mbeki would use his constitutional powers to introduce central control of the province.

In an eleventh hour compromise, the South African Press Association reported on Wednesday, Jan 8, that Mtshali told the legislature that his party had received written assurances from Mbeki, Deputy President Jacob Zuma and Justice Minister Penuell Maduna that the "controversial amendment" of the floor-crossing legislation would be withdrawn. As a result the IFP withdrew the dissolution motion. (IRIN)

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