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Buthelezi refuses to accept the end is nigh: Zulu leader fights on as South Africa blames his followers for Natal violence

THE SUN will set for the last time over South Africa's banana re publics after the April elections but the leader of one of them continues to behave as if his reign will last forever.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, chief of the banana republic christened 'the KwaZulu homeland' by the old engineers of apartheid, bought himself a jet for Christmas. Not a toy one but a brand new, high-luxury, eight-seater, twin-engined, British- built Hawker 800 worth pounds 6m. Payment, according to KwaZulu government sources, was in cash.

The other nine black homelands have all been characterised over the years by the excesses of their governments. Fleets of Mercedes-Benz cars, lavish shopping expeditions in London for the wives of 'chief ministers'; these, and other indulgences, have been considered just rewards by people whose enjoyment of the trappings of patronage has always been spoilt by the abuse they have had to withstand from the African National Congress and their upstart activists.

No homeland leader has been more abused than Chief Buthelezi. None has sacrificed more in the service of the state. None was more deserving of a gift so grand from the South African taxpayer.

Chief Buthelezi's desire to hold on to power should, if anything, provide him with more incentive now than ever not to lose it after South Africa holds its first democratic elections on 27 April. Because the danger exists that he might, he has so far insisted that his party, Inkatha, will not take part.

He has been demanding cash from the impoverished KwaZulu peasantry to raise an Inkatha army; he has rejected the new constitution passed into law last month; and he has refused to recognise the authority of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), the new multi-party forum established within government to pave the way for free and fair elections.

The first clash between the TEC and Inkatha (synonymous with KwaZulu, over which it exercises one-party rule) occurred a month ago, within days of the TEC's first sitting. The single instrument of government which gives Chief Buthelezi the most power is the KwaZulu police, an institution denounced for its political bias and brutality by human rights organi sations the world over.

The reason for the clash was that the TEC called for the South African police, viewed even by the ANC as less undesirable than the KwaZulu police, to provide protection for the inhabitants of those parts of KwaZulu - an archipelago of 50 geographically demarcated territories - which fall within Northern Natal. The TEC believes that this part of the country, which is the Inkatha heartland, is where the violence is likely to be bloodiest in the run-up to the elections.

Responding, the commissioner of the KwaZulu police, General Roy During, gave the TEC short shrift - which was not surprising, since his minister of police is none other than Chief Buthelezi himself. What was more surprising was the refusal of the minister in charge of the South African police, Hernus Kriel, to abide by the TEC's instructions. For the TEC consists partly of members of his own government.

More surprising still, a confidential report presented before the TEC and obtained this week by the Independent reveals that the South African police in Natal agree with the ANC assessment that Inkatha is instigating the violence currently afflicting that part of the world. Last weekend, 63 people were murdered in Natal. Over the Christmas weekend 50 died.

The report, compiled by the regional police commissioner in Natal, listed half a dozen trouble spots in Northern Natal and in each case identified Inkatha supporters as 'the aggressors'. 'It is clear,' the report says, 'that Inkatha has embarked on a campaign to drive ANC members . . . from the above-mentioned Inkatha areas and it can be expected that an increase in unrest- related incidents will occur, in view of the forthcoming election.'

It is also clear from the report that the South African police are not averse to the idea of taking over the functions of the KwaZulu police in Northern Natal. The reluctance is political and takes the form of Mr Kriel, a known 'hawk' in government, who rejects his government's new anti-Inkatha orthodoxy and clings to the idea that Inkatha can win the Natal provincial elections.

Chief Buthelezi appears to be less sure. A KwaZulu official, explaining the purchase of the jet, said it would be used for trips in South Africa and 'possibly into Africa'.

JOHANNESBURG - South African police, hunting the killers of four people in a Cape Town pub, shot dead a young man when violence broke out at a community hall they raided last night, Reuter reports.