Buthelezi lays siege to monarch's grip and Mandela's dream

Five thousand Zulu warriors stood roasting in the Natal sun, spears and axes at the ready. Mangosuthu Buthelezi's thin, unamplified voice wafted down from the rostrum with another chant to keep his stadium of supporters occupied until the public-address system was fixed.

Soon the minor chiefs at the front were dancing with glee. "I dreamed of a witch, doing her sorcery," they all boomed in Zulu unison, springbok- skin skirts and weapons flailing .

Mr Buthelezi was up to some old magic himself yesterday, staging another rally to consolidate his power in KwaZulu- Natal, threatening President Nelson Mandela's vision of a unitary South African state and laying psychological siege to his main local opponent, the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelethini

"We are writing a new page in the history of the Zulu nation," said Mr Buthelezi, whose Inkatha Freedom Party is the only significant black rival to Mr Mandela's African National Congress. "We are leading the struggle for its final liberation and self-determination." Such words have prompted fears that Mr Buthelezi is plotting to dominate KwaZulu-Natal and divide it from the rest of South Africa in the guise of a federation. Among South Africa's 40 million people, only 7 million are Zulus, but they constitute 75 per cent of the population of KwaZulu-Natal.

Mr Buthelezi's struggle for Zulu self-determination will be a hard one. Inkatha polled only 10 per cent of the national vote in last year's historic elections and just managed to win a majority of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial assembly - 41 seats out of 81 - amid allegations of rampant ballot box- stuffing. But he is not shrinking from the fight, even though the government is still refusing to honour a promise of international mediation on the role of the Zulu monarchy and his demands for autonomy. Inkatha, part of the Government of National Unity, withdrew from it for two weeks last month over the issue.

But to speak for all the Zulus, Mr Buthelezi must also have the king on his side. The ANC has seduced Goodwill Zwelethini with money and an army guard to protect him from the violence endemic to the province's political turf battles. So it was the king's "spiritual exile [from his] mystical relationship with the people" that was the focus of yesterday's rally in Umlazi, just south of Durban.

It is ANC territory and so tension was high, culminating in shooting in the air, some injuries and police tear-gassing of the stadium. The king had ordered Zulus to stay away, but Mr Buthelezi showed the strength of his position by securing the participation of many of the province's 300 tribal chiefs. Even so, he trod carefully. After all, the two men are set to dine with the Queen during her visit this month.

"Nothing could be more far removed from our soul and our spirit than a vile plan to dethrone our king," Mr Buthelezi said. But if the king did not come back to the fold within two months, "we shall make final decisions to plot the way forward ..."

Prince after prince of the royal house stood before the crowd to criticise the king, in what one sub-chief described as a "very, very painful" vote of no confidence.

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