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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Buthelezi's Poll Pact: More Losses Than Gains?

JOHANNESBURG -- Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi has climbed on board South Africa's election bandwagon -- but it remains to be seen how much of the constitutional baggage he once regarded as essential he has left behind, analysts say.

Buthelezi agreed Tuesday that his Inkatha Freedom Party would take part in next week's historic all-race elections after dramatic 11th-hour negotiations with the government and the African National Congress, the favorite to win the polls.

It was unclear whether Buthelezi gained more than he gave in the talks, but political and economic analysts regarded the deal as a victory for South Africa.

What was announced "was a framework of bone without any flesh, and we have to wait and see what the menu is to put flesh on the bone," said political scientist Willie Breytenbach of Stellenbosch University.

"The devil lies in the details -- the principles are nothing new, unless Buthelezi knows something we don't," he said, but he added: "I think Buthelezi's bluff has been called."

The South African Chamber of Business welcomed the agreement, with local markets advancing strongly on the news after weeks of uncertainty that threatened to further damage an already frail economy.

A better political climate and a fall in violence would strengthen perceptions of stability in South Africa both at home and abroad, essential to creating a positive investment climate. Robert Schrire, professor of political science at Cape Town University, was blunt in his assessment of Buthelezi's losses.

"I think this is very clear cut. The only way I can see it is a fundamental capitulation by Buthelezi," he said.

He said Inkatha had failed to change the fundamentals of the interim constitution Buthelezi had bitterly opposed, had failed to delay the elections and had accepted mediation only after the polls took place.

"Buthelezi gambled, but at least at the very last minute he came to recognize the cost and futility of his stand," Schrire said.

The position of King Goodwill Zwelithini, the titular head of the country's 8.5 million Zulus, figured prominently in the deal between Buthelezi, President F.W. de Klerk and ANC leader Nelson Mandela, who is almost certain to become South Africa's first black president.

They agreed "to recognize and protect the institution, status and role of the constitutional position of the king of the Zulus and the kingdom of KwaZulu."

The agreement calls for international mediation as soon as possible after the voting to address "any outstanding issues in respect of the king and the 1993 constitution as amended" after a special session of parliament on Monday.

A cleric who accompanied Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other church leaders during talks at the king's Royal Kraal in Nongoma on Friday said that the king decided during the six-hour meeting that he was being dragged too deeply into politics.

Pastor Ray McCauley said he believed Zwelithini had told Buthelezi he could no longer count on his support and that this had persuaded the Inkatha leader to change his position on the elections.

Buthelezi, himself, put on a brave face at a Pretoria news conference announcing the agreement, saying it was a victory for the principle of self-determination. Breytenbach questioned what "self-determination" meant.

"It could mean anything. It's a very woolly concept," he said.