Obituary: Prince Mcwayizeni Israel Zulu

ON A bright day in September 1994, a gaunt Zulu prince walked up to the gates of King Goodwill Zwelithini's palace in Nongoma, in South Africa's rural KwaZulu Natal province, and the king came down to meet him. The two men performed a cleansing ritual.

"In accordance with tradition, we stood outside the palace gates and a man poured fire ash into the king's hands, which he poured into my hands. We rubbed our hands with the ash and then I poured it back into the king's hands," Mcwayizeni Israel Zulu said at the time. Mcwayizeni then took a cow to the king's kraal, and the king gave the prince a beast from the royal kraal. The beasts were slaughtered and there was a feast.

The ceremony, conducted in the presence of the families of both men, as well as the families of the late Kings Solomon and Cyprian, marked the end of a bitter 26-year-old battle for the heart of the Zulu monarch. Its main protagonists were Mcwayizeni and one of South Africa's leading politicians, Mangoshuthu Buthelezi, the Home Affairs Minister and leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Caught in the middle was King Goodwill. For Mcwayizeni, the 1994 ceremony marked his return to the royal fold after the decades in the wilderness when Buthelezi held sway over the royal family and the weak, pliable king.

Mcwayizeni was the most senior member of the Zulu royal family after King Goodwill. The differences between Mcwayizeni and Buthelezi started in 1968, when Mcwayizeni, then aged 36, became regent to King Goodwill after the death of his father, who was Mcwayizeni's brother. In 1971, when his nephew ascended to the throne, Mcwayizeni announced that Buthelezi, himself a Zulu prince, would not be part of a proposed royal council to advise the king. Buthelezi was also excluded from the official programme at the coronation, an incident which he considered an insult.

Thereafter the two men's differences revolved around the position of "traditional prime minister" to the king - the most powerful position in Zulu royalty. As the most senior prince in the royal family, Mcwayizeni was by all traditional accounts supposed to occupy the position. However, until 1994 Buthelezi held the position, despite being a junior prince. Indeed, in the bitter battle for the position and thereby control of the royal house, Mcwayizeni alleged that Buthelezi was not a member of the Zulu royal clan, but of a lower house. "He has nothing to do with matters of the royal family. He is not a Zulu; he is a Buthelezi," Mcwayizeni said.

In 1979 the simmering differences between Buthelezi and Mcwayizeni came to a head. Buthelezi, by then leader of the apartheid-created KwaZulu homeland while Mcwayizeni was the king's representative in the homeland's parliament, accused Mcwayizeni and the king of attempting to form a political party to oppose him. King Goodwill, present in the legislative chamber, fled, apparently in tears.

The power had decisively shifted from Mcwayizeni by then, and Buthelezi gradually entrenched himself as the king's adviser. Prince Sifiso Zulu, a one-time spokesman for the king, believes there were several reasons why Zwelithini was weakened and allowed himself to be used: "Through his IFP and KwaZulu government, Buthelezi managed to have access and control over the king's subjects. If the king were to rise against Buthelezi at that point, he would have lost the support of his people."

Further, the king's office was a sub-division of Buthelezi's department in the KwaZulu homeland. The king had to make requests to Buthelezi for whatever he needed - including stationery, transport and any other kind of allowance. Buthelezi's control was absolute. It was in this decade that the lines between the Zulu people and the IFP became blurred as Buthelezi emerged not just as a leader of his party, but as a spokesman for the king and therefore of the eight- million-strong Zulu people.

It was in the 1980s that Mcwayizeni began to build a relationship with Nelson Mandela's banned African National Congress (ANC). After a meeting with the organisation's exiled leaders in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1989, Mcwayizeni resigned from Buthelezi's KwaZulu homeland parliament and declared that he would join the ANC as soon as it was possible to do so inside the country.

At this point Mcwayizeni's opposition to Buthelezi's involvement with the Zulu royal family became more vocal. For this, he came under increasing attack - his house was petrol-bombed and several attempts were made on his life. In the meantime, water and electricity at his house in Nongoma were cut off by the responsible department in Buthelezi's KwaZulu homeland.

Mcwayizeni continued to campaign to show that not all Zulus were linked to the IFP, a misconception that had led to the harassment and deaths of many Zulus in South Africa's mining townships in the early 1990s when violence erupted between the ANC and the IFP. In 1992 he was elected to the ANC's national executive committee, the organisation's highest decision- making body, and was one of the organisation's most popular leaders in KwaZulu Natal. He participated in various structures set up to bring an end to the feuding between the ANC and IFP in the province, where more than 15,000 people have died in political violence since 1983.

In April 1994 Mcwayizeni became one of the first members of parliament in the democratic South Africa, but began ailing with kidney problems and high blood pressure soon thereafter. At Mcwayizeni's death, there had been no reconciliation between him and Buthelezi.

Mcwayizeni Israel Zulu, politician: born Nongoma, South Africa 3 March 1931; married (five sons, two daughters); died Johannesburg 7 September 1999.