The planned Inkatha march through Johannesburg today to the African National Congress headquarters was abandoned after President F W de Klerk warned he would not allow a repetition of the bloodshed that left 53 dead a fortnight ago.
Police had spent the weekend planning where to put roadblocks and barbed wire fences. 'City braced for chaos,' ran one newspaper headline yesterday as shops were warned to close and office workers told to stay at home.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Inkatha leader, had said on Saturday that there was nothing to fear: 'No single march of the Inkatha Freedom Party has ever gone out control.' But yesterday, after Mr de Klerk had declared that the police would crack down on the marchers, Inkatha leaders announced that the demonstration had been 'postponed'. The climbdown appeared to reflect a broader confusion in the Inkatha leadership regarding how best to respond to the most dangerous crisis the organisation has faced since its foundation in 1975.
Chief Buthelezi's refusal both to take part in South Africa's first democratic elections on 27 April and to agree to a compromise solution to his problems has left him virtually without friends.
After the elections the subsidised homeland government of KwaZulu will be disbanded, depriving him of a source of income. Newspapers previously loyal have called for his retirement from politics. Yesterday the country's highest circulation newspaper, Johannesburg's Sunday Times, departed dramatically from previous positions and demanded an end to 'Chief Buthelezi's reign of terror'.
Government officials were suggesting yesterday that he was also about to lose arguably his last, and certainly his strongest, political card. In recent months he has sought refuge behind the royal cloak of his nephew, the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, demanding that a place for 'the Zulu kingdom' should be entrenched in the new constitution.
Failure to agree on a formula acceptable to Chief Buthelezi, who has controlled the king's political thought
processes, has stoked the fires of Zulu nationalism, turning conservative Inkatha Zulus violently against ANC Zulus.
Government officials would not disclose details but said they had found a formula they believed would leave Chief Buthelezi with no option but to accept a constitutional deal for the Zulu monarchy. The importance of such a deal would be that the king would be obliged to call off his subjects' war against the elections, leaving the Inkatha leader bereft of political ammunition.
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