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S. Africa's Parliament gears up for battle over squatters

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There is expected to be a bitter confrontation in the all-white South African Parliament this week when the vigorous young leader of the main opposition Progressive Federal Party, Dr. Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, confronts Prime Minister Pieter Botha over details of government policy.

The prime minister has already told Dr. Slabbert in Parliament "Just wait, I will get you" during the debate.

For good measure, in another exchange, Dr. Slabbert told Minister of Finance Owen horwood that "you are quite disgusting."

And Mr. Horwood responded portentously that the ruling National Party and the Progressive Federal Party had "come to the parting of the ways" -- a perhaps ominous sounding but rather meaningless remark because the two parties have been on a collision course since the parliamentary session began a few weeks ago.

Indeed, tension between the two main white political parties has probably never been so great before. Nor for that matter has there been quite so much tension and unease for a long time inside the National Party itself.

One immediate reason is the government's handling of black squatters who set up a dismal and squalid encampment ouside Cape Town, just a few miles from Parliament itself.

The government responded by tearing down their shelters, leaving men, women, and babies exposed in bitter, wet winter weather, and harassed the squatters in many other ways as well, in an attempt to drive them back to the remote rural "homelands," where the squatters said they were starving.

After weeks of steadily mounting protest from whites as well as blacks, the government suddenly announced a "new deal" for the squatters and allowed them to erect shelters again while negotiations took place.

But these broke down when the squatters insisted that men would not be prepared to accept jobs if this meant that their families would not be allowed to stay with them -- a fundamental demand by the squatters all along.


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