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National Party Searches for Role in New South Africa

July 4, 1995

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ After 40 years at the helm of the apartheid state, the National Party is finding it hard being second in command.

The power-sharing deal that cleared the way for all-race elections last year gave the former white rulers a place in the Cabinet _ but now they are accused of being too cozy with the governing African National Congress.

``You can’t be critical of every decision taken by the government of national unity, because in 80 percent of cases your leaders were part of the decision,″ Barend Geldenhuys, who has represented the National Party in parliament since 1979, said in a recent interview.

``But at the same time, your supporters at grassroots want you to strike out at the ANC all the time and act like an official opposition,″ Geldenhuys said.

Roelf Meyer, one of the most visible National Party figures as minister of provincial affairs and constitutional development, is a lightning rod for controversy within the party.

Newspaper reports this weekend said he was the most unpopular National Party leader, regarded by some as a traitor trying to curry favor with the African National Congress.

In a written response, Meyer dismissed the reports as ``malicious gossip.″

However, he does not deny guiding legislation through parliament that shifts responsibility for the payment of traditional leaders from provincial authorities to the central government.

The Inkatha Freedom Party, the ANC rival that dominates the eastern KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, regards the move as an attack on its support base among chiefs.

Tino Volker, a National Party representative in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial parliament, has said the party will support Inkatha’s planned court challenge of the proposal.

Meyer also admits clashing with Hernus Kriel, the National Party leader in the only province controlled by the party. Meyer blocked Kriel from redrawing voting districts in Western Cape province to favor the National Party in local elections scheduled for November.

Meyer said his Cabinet post requires dealing ``with different political views from all the main political parties.

``It happens frequently that reconciliation needs to be brought about,″ he said.

On Friday, a National Party city council member in Pretoria, the capital, defected to the ANC.

``The National Party at the moment is nothing to no one,″ said council member Lappe Laubscher, a Nationalist for 30 years. ``The choice for Afrikaners is to join the separatist Freedom Front or to be part of nation building and join the ANC. But to be in between means nothing.″

But National Party leader F.W. de Klerk, who was South Africa’s last white leader and became one of Mandela’s vice president, played down the party’s difficulties.

``I would say that psychologically, for a party which has been in full power for such a long period, it was a great adaptation, and it took us a while to really get settled into our new role,″ he told The Associated Press. ``But now the wheels are rolling, and I am very happy with the way we are constantly improving on our performance.″

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