Buthelezi's old weapons rust

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The Independent Online
MANGOSUTHU Buthelezi, the leader of South Africa's third largest parliamentary party, remains Minister of Home Affairs in Nelson Mandela's government despite leading a gang assault on a royal Zulu prince on Sunday during an interview broadcast on the current affairs programme 'Agenda'.

Mr Mandela publicly censured Mr Buthelezi on Wednesday and ordered him to apologise but did not feel it necessary to recommend his minister to take 'a rest'.

This tells us one important thing: South Africa cannot yet be classified 'normal' by the Western standards Mr Mandela takes as his model.

The television fiasco also tells us something about Mr Buthelezi. The incident laid bare his code of political engagement. Systematic bullying, intimidation and terror have been Inkatha's principal instruments of persuasion - that and a successful propaganda campaign, lapped up by many whites at home and abroad around the notion that Inkatha and the Zulu nation are indivisible.

The reason Mr Buthelezi went wild on Sunday night was that, confronted by a mutinous prince, it dawned on him that his power was inexorably dwindling, that his traditional weapons were being taken from him.

Traditional weapon 1: the perceived link between Inkatha and the Zulus. That was broken last week when King Goodwill Zwelithini announced he was severing all ties with Mr Buthelezi, his uncle and self-proclaimed 'traditional prime minister'.

Traditional weapon 2: Inkatha's capacity for violence. Before the April elections, Mr Buthelezi ran the 'homeland' of KwaZulu, which enabled him to deploy the KwaZulu police against his political enemies in concert, critically, with the South African security police. But today the Third Force, as it became known, no longer operates.

Although Inkatha could still generate sufficient violence to discourage foreign investment - hence Mr Mandela's reluctance to dismiss Mr Buthelezi - the notion they might yet unleash a civil war is mere fantasy.

Traditional weapon 3: Mr Buthelezi's ability to dispense patronage through funds from KwaZulu and from admirers who saw him as a bastion against the Godless Communism of Mr Mandela's African National Congress. With the fall of apartheid and the ANC's global respectability, such funds have all but dried up.

As Mr Mandela's stature has grown, so Mr Buthelezi's has shrunk. A few months ago no one would have imagined he would submit to the sort of public dressing-down dispensed by Mr Mandela at a press conference on Wednesday. Mr Mandela rebuked and patronised him. The once-proud Zulu leader sat there and took it. Conclusive evidence that his traditional weapons are rusting into disuse.