JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ KwaNdebele Chief Minister Simon Skosana, who dropped plans to accept independence for his black homeland after scores died in violence this year, has died after a long illness. He was 59.

A statement today from the homeland government said Minister of Works and Water Affairs Klaas Mtsweni was appointed acting chief minister after Skosana's death Monday night in a Johannesburg Hospital.

The statement said Skosana died of problems related to diabetes. His funeral was scheduled for Saturday.

Skosana worked his way up through tribal politics, and became chairman of the Ndebele Territorial Authority in 1977. He became chief minister of the homeland in 1981 when it was given self-governing status, a step below independence.

Scores of people were killed in fighting in KwaNdebele, a poor and overcrowded enclave of 232,000 blacks northeast of Pretoria, over Skosana's plan to accept independence from South Africa on Dec. 11.

In August, shortly after a key Skosana aide was killed by a bomb, the homeland Legislative Assembly endorsed Skosana's decision to reverse himself and drop independence plans.

Two principal foes of independence, Prince James Mahlangu and Prince Andries Mahlangu, were detained last week by homeland police. That prompted speculation that KwaNdebele officials were reconsidering whether to become the fifth black homeland to accept independence from South Africa.

However, the South African Press Association quoted South African officials as saying there were no plans to go ahead with independence.

Apartheid foes say the homeland system, developed by the ruling National Party after it won power in 1948, is a device to deprive the nation's 24 million blacks of citizenship rights by giving them the vote only in the 10 homelands.

No nation other than South Africa recognizes the homelands as independent countries.

KwaNdebele, an area of 575,000 acres for the Ndebele tribe, is the smallest homeland after QwaQwa. Opponents of independence say it lacks resources, industry and other assets that could make it a viable independent country.

A year ago, South Africa agreed to hand over an adjacent tract known as Moutse, with more than 100,000 residents, to KwaNdebele, a transaction often described as an incentive to Skosana to accept independence.

Moutse residents, who are North Sotho people rather than Ndebeles, fought the plan in repeated bloody clashes with police and KwaNdebele vigilantes, saying their language, culture and citizenship were at stake.

The trouble spread from Moutse to KwaNdebele itself this year as those for and against independence battled each other.

Pieter Ntuli, described as a Skosana henchman who ran a feared band of vigilantes known as the Imbokhoto, died in a car bombing reputedly carried out by the outlawed African National Congress guerrilla movement, which rejects the homelands.

The KwaNdebele Legislative Assembly quickly cancelled the independence plan, and cast the Imbokhoto into official disfavor.

The Legislative Assembly was expected to pick a successor to Skosana within a few weeks.