Behind Inkatha's demand for 'autonomy'

April 26, 1995

By Toby Borgeest

JOHANNESBURG — The most serious source of tension in South Africa's national assembly is the Inkatha Freedom Party's (IFP) frequent threats to withdraw from parliamentary and constitution-drafting work — and the occasional implied threats to withdraw from the Government of National Unity (GNU) — over its campaign for greater regional autonomy for its provincial stronghold, KwaZulu/Natal.

In an effort to guarantee IFP participation in the 1994 election, the African National Congress (ANC) and National Party signed an agreement which promised "international mediation" to consider "all outstanding issues" unresolved between the parties prior to the election. The issues mostly related to demands for regional autonomy, in reality a set of ambit claims by the IFP to reduce the power of an ANC-dominated national government over the IFP-majority government in KwaZulu/Natal.

The ANC has dragged its heels over international mediation. The final straw for the IFP was a recent speech by South African President and ANC leader Nelson Mandela which overturned his pre-election commitment to facilitate mediation.

The IFP is dependent on maintaining as much capacity for patronage disbursement as possible through the KwaZulu/Natal provincial government. It was largely through control of the financial and security functions of the former KwaZulu "homeland" — a creation of the apartheid regime — that the IFP was able to build a political base and proclaim itself the legitimate voice of "Zulu nationalism".

A quick look at the recent legislative initiatives of the IFP demonstrates how any future "autonomy" would be used. The draft "Implementation of Peace Bill" introduced into the KwaZulu/Natal parliament by the IFP proposes to vest wide-ranging powers, including those of search and seizure, fines and imprisonment, in the hands of a "competent person" to be appointed by the provincial premier.

The draft bill calls for the creation of a Peace Committee (PC) comprising the provincial parliamentary standing committee on safety and security and an executive director appointed by the provincial minister of safety and security. The PC will appoint regional committees which will in turn appoint local committees. Each committee will be subject to the control of the committee above it, and members can be removed if the committee overseeing them "is of the opinion that there is a valid reason for doing so". If a local committee is unable to resolve a problem relating to violence in its community, the matter is referred to the regional committee and the provincial minister, who then refers the matter to a "competent person". The "competent person" is then empowered to investigate, negotiate, hold an inquiry and summon people to appear, issue orders, impose fines of up to R2000 or terms of imprisonment of up to 12 months. The "competent person" is defined as "any person appointed as a justice of the peace ... or any retired magistrate".

Richard Lyster of the Legal Resource Centre dismissed the proposed legislation as unconstitutional because "it contains policing and judicial functions that go way beyond the legislative powers granted to the provinces". He questioned whether even the National Assembly could pass such legislation.

Because of the constitutional hurdles, this draft has little chance of becoming law. It does, however, give an indication of the lengths to which the IFP is prepared to go to find new ways to entrench its capacity for political domination of local communities. Political appointees throughout the jurisdiction would be empowered to make far-reaching decisions about the lives of people in their areas, accountable to no-one but their immediate political superiors, following a hierarchy that leads directly to the provincial cabinet and the IFP.

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