Buthelezi fails to inspire Zulus with call to resistance: It was a royal gathering of clans to display tribal power. But many were bored by the fierce rhetoric. John Carlin reports from Durban

SOME 50,000 Zulus, formidable in traditional finery, arrived in a convoy of buses at a rugby stadium in Durban yesterday to pay homage to their king, Goodwill Zwelithini.

The king's uncle and the event's organiser, Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, saw the occasion in a more political light - as a show of force to press Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk into submitting to his demand for a postponement of South Africa's first democratic election.

Foreign diplomats who made the trip from Pretoria saw the ceremony (a royal imbizo, a gathering of the Zulu clans) as an opportunity to gauge whether the recent thinly veiled threats of civil war by Chief Buthelezi and his cohorts were serious.

At first sight, serious enough. Zulu chief after Zulu chief - spear-wielding, shield-carrying, bare-bellied men in cowhide skirts and leopardskin headdresses - marched into King's Park stadium at the head of 300-400 strong impi battalions. Sonorous battle cries, foot-stomping delirium and hair-raisingly realistic spear charges greeted each new arrival, evoking images of the Battle of Rorke's Drift in 1879 - portrayed in the film Zulu - when 120 dread-filled British Redcoats faced 4,000 Zulu warriors.

Some of the rhetoric from the royal podium yesterday afternoon served only to reinforce the perception, in a phrase recently employed by Chief Buthelezi, that the Zulu people were preparing to enter anew 'into the dark waters'. Ben Ngubane, who heads the delegation of the KwaZulu 'homeland' in democracy talks, warned that the African National Congress and the South African government were waging a campaign to destroy the Zulu nation.

The speech, all in that vein, was transparently inflammatory. But the vast majority of people in the stadium paid not the slightest attention. Some slept, some chatted, most simply sat and watched the spectacle. The crowd, proud Zulus all, had come in response to a call from the king, and it was he - and he alone - they had come to hear.

When he spoke, they listened, coming to life when he recalled the brave deeds of his royal forebears, their battles against the British and the Boers. They also responded well to his calls for Zulu unity and resoundingly when he proclaimed his rejection of those who proposed the 'annihilation' of the Zulu nation.

Stirring stuff, but a little puzzling, as conversations with a dozen chiefs and indunas (chiefs' counsellors) in the stadium confirmed. Inkatha supporters to a man, they were quick to acknowledge, given the bloody battles they have fought in recent years with their neighbours, that huge numbers of Zulus were loyal to the ANC and Mr Mandela. 'I don't understand how it is that the Zulus are going to be destroyed,' said an induna from a single-men's hostel in KwaMashu township, outside Durban. 'And I don't understand why people are saying we will go to war because there is a date for an election. We don't believe in war because war causes deaths, and we can't support the families of people who die in a war.'

That was not the thinking of Albert Mncwango, an Inkatha central committee member and leader of Inkatha's shadowy armed wing, the Bambatha Battalion. A stocky man in a brown leather jacket, he said he found the speeches boring. 'I want to hear a call to military action. In Africa the way we sort out problems is not by negotiations but by fighting. The problem is solved when one side is defeated in battle. but I'm excited. I know that just around the corner a full-scale war awaits us, a war in which nobody will sleep.'

He did not expect an express order to that effect from Chief Buthelezi, the last speaker, but he did expect him to generate a mood, 'to send a signal'. As it happened, by the time the Inkatha leader's turn came to speak, the stadium, packed for the king, was half-empty. People were leaving in droves - prompting Chief Buthelezi to speak incoherently and quickly for fear, as a diplomat present suggested, that by the time he finished the place would be empty.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Affiliates & Partnerships

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This multi-award winning foreig...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor