February 12, 2004

SOUTH AFRICA: Elections held in April 14 / Buthelezi doubts a future with the ANC

South Africa will go to polls on 14 April, President Thabo Mbeki has announced. According to him, the last registration weekend brought the total of voters to just over 20 million. Up to seven million eligible voters are believed to have remained unregistered.

In the meantime, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi announced that he would probably not stay in government after the election, a development that would effectively end his party's coalition with the African National Congress (ANC). Buthelezi expressed his doubts about staying on as home affairs minister during a parliamentary media briefing, but would not elaborate except to say that President Thabo Mbeki had appointed him for a five-year term which was due to expire. However, his comments can also be seen in the light of deteriorating relations between the ANC and the IFP, and the fragility of their alliance. This became abundantly clear when Buthelezi spoke of "unprecedented" interference by the cabinet in his department's formulation of regulations under the much-delayed Immigration Act, which is viewed as crucial to addressing serious skills shortages in South Africa.

The struggle over the regulations is the latest in a long history of conflict between Buthelezi and the ANC over a new immigration regime. The department spent about four years formulating a new system, which would allow the private sector to determine its own skills requirements subject to the payment of a levy. However, the ANC-controlled home affairs committee in Parliament withdrew Buthelezi's proposals, replacing them with a quota system. Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, who chairs the governance and administration cluster within cabinet, however explained that there was nothing untoward in cabinet's involvement. "It is the cabinet's prerogative to look at any legislation. It has nothing to do with who the minister may be at a given point in time." (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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