Addressing Inkatha Freedom Party MPs in Ulundi, the capital of the apartheid-created KwaZulu 'homeland', Chief Buthelezi said: 'We need to separate the kingdom of KwaZulu from the rest of South Africa.' If the ANC and the South African government ignored this demand and went ahead with elections in April, 'the KwaZulu government cannot be held responsible for the anger of the Zulu nation'.
Chief Buthelezi, the Inkatha president, made no mention in his speech of his meeting with Mr Mandela the day before. There he had agreed to allow free and peaceful campaigning for the April poll and even went so far as to say he might consider taking part.
In a joint statement, he said Inkatha would consider 'provisional registration' for the elections and both leaders said they would examine the possibility of international mediation to resolve their constitutional differences.
Not only did Chief Buthelezi fail to mention any of these new developments yesterday; he condemned the ANC for 'manipulating' the constitutional process to subject Zulus to the 'illegitimate sovereignty of the ANC/SA Communist Party alliance without our consent, without these people having defeated us, and against our will'.
That phrase 'without these people having defeated us' offered a reminder, as diplomats in Durban remarked yesterday, of the difficulty Chief Buthelezi has with the modern notion of democracy. Lapsing at times into a 19th-century concept of Zulu politics, he struggles with the idea that he might be removed from power through the ballot-box.
The likelihood that he will lose an election even in his Natal-KwaZulu stronghold - all the polls having indicated that most Zulus will vote for the ANC - is believed by negotiators both in the government and the ANC to be the main reason why he persists with his warnings of war.
To try to deflect Chief Buthelezi's attention towards peace, parliament concluded a special three-day session yesterday with the introduction of a number of conciliatory constitutional amendments. The amendments allow, among other things, for greater regional powers and, at Chief Buthelezi's particularly shrill insistence, a double ballot, one for the national, one for the provincial elections.
But that, it has turned out, falls far short of the Inkatha leader's needs. What is it he really wants? This is what the government, the ANC and the diplomatic community in South Africa are asking. The answer, as an African diplomat observed, is simple enough: a guarantee that he will preserve his power and status independent of the election results.
How to solve that conundrum, in the light of Inkatha's likely capacity to provoke a bloodbath in Natal, has become the principal concern of all those who wish to see a peaceful, stable and democratic future for South Africa. Whether Inkatha 'provisionally' registers for the elections does not provide a solution, for, as Chief Buthelezi has indicated, the party can just as easily 'de-register'. As for international mediation, the international community is more than ready to assist, as Bill Clinton and John Major made clear in a joint communique to Mr Mandela and Chief Buthelezi on Monday.
The ANC's view is that if this is required to avert a disaster, then so be it. But the fear, as ANC officials observed yesterday, is that a prolonged new debate could arise, lasting possibly beyond the scheduled election date, about who that mediator should be, who could be found that would be perceived by all sides to be trustworthy, impartial and sufficiently sensitive to local political conditions.