Buthelezi's options dwindle as poll looms

CHIEF Mangosuthu Buthelezi was at the podium, singing and laughing, as two dozen impis, groups of warriors armed with rifles, spears and shields, chanted and marched through a crowd below of 12,000. Behind him sat the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, who had just called on his followers to defend a sovereign Zulu kingdom which he had proclaimed.

'He has decided to stand up for his kingdom, for the unity of his people,' Chief Buthelezi said of the King. But the size of the rally, held in the KwaZulu 'homeland' capital on Friday, was not impressive, given that Nelson Mandela drew three times as many people on a visit a few days before to the former homeland of Bophuthatswana.

It was from the hills surrounding Ulundi that the last independent Zulu king, Cetewayo, watched a British force 115 years ago occupy the seat of the Zulu kingdom and set fire to the royal kraal. The view from where King Goodwill and Chief Buthelezi, his Chief Minister, surveyed his warriors at last week's rally was an equally troubling one.

The Inkatha Freedom Party's decision to boycott next month's general election, South Africa's first all-race vote, has put the Chief on a collision course with President F W de Klerk and the ANC, which, most opinion polls indicate, would win a fair election among Zulus.

Mr de Klerk, whose National Party once considered Chief Buthelezi as a moderate rival to the ANC, has released a report alleging a conspiracy between Inkatha, the KwaZulu police and senior South African police officials to use violence to prevent the transition to democracy. Some of Chief Buthelezi's most trusted aides have been implicated.

The government has threatened to use all means necessary to hold the elections in Natal province, which surrounds KwaZulu. The last ruler to defy the government's election plans, the Bophuthatswana President Lucas Mangope, Chief Buthelezi's ally, fell from power and saw the South African Defence Force (SADF) occupy his former domain.

The reputation for military prowess of the extreme-right whites, Chief Buthelezi's allies, was shattered when the Bophuthatswana Defence Force ran them out of the towns of Mmabatho and Mafikeng a week ago when they attempted to intervene in support of Mr Mangope. Since then, they have splintered hopelessly, with their former leader, Constand Viljoen, deciding to participate in the polls.

SADF troops in armoured troop carriers were seen last week within 40 miles of Ulundi, near the town of Empangeni.

Voters in Natal, even strong ANC supporters, admit they may be too scared to vote. 'Inkatha is saying that if you go and vote you will be killed,' said Temba Ngema, a student at the University of Zululand. 'The fear is strong in the rural areas.'

Inkatha supporters have disrupted two ANC rallies near Durban in recent days: such actions are likely to prompt the Independent Electoral Commission to call for an SADF crackdown.

Chief Buthelezi's government is completely dependent on the central government to pay civil servants and the KwaZulu police. Payments are made monthly, so KwaZulu could be broke within 30 days of a cut-off. And Mr de Klerk has the power to impose control over the 4,000-strong KwaZulu police force.

Chief Buthelezi has warned that any attempt to subdue KwaZulu would meet with violent resistance. He has been training 'self-defence units' under the direction of a white former South African security- police officer and there have been reports that white extremists linked to Eugene Terre-Blanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement have been undertaking training secretly.

Most military analysts believe the chances of the Inkatha impis and the new trainees in a long struggle against the SADF would be little better than those of Cetewayo against the British.

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