Mandela shuns clash with Inkatha leader: The President's fear of Buthelezi is frustrating ANC supporters in Natal, writes John Carlin in Johannesburg

Click to follow
NELSON MANDELA fears Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Mr Mandela might be the President, and Mr Buthelezi might be his Minister of Home Affairs; he might lead the party that won the April elections by a landslide while the Inkatha leader barely secured 10 per cent of the vote. But when the two meet eyeball to eyeball, it is Mr Mandela who blinks.

Take the April election result in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Evidence abounded that Inkatha had rigged the poll. But Mr Mandela agreed not to contest the election, and handed the provincial government to Mr Buthelezi's lieutenants.

Take the meeting on Monday at the Zulu royal palace in Nongoma, where Mr Mandela met King Goodwill Zwelithini and Mr Buthelezi. The meeting was called to discuss Mr Buthelezi's dismay at the king's decision to invite Mr Mandela to this weekend's Shaka Day celebrations. Mr Mandela had been looking forward to the event for weeks. But when he met Mr Buthelezi, he said, 'OK, fine, I won't attend.'

What is it that Mr Mandela fears? He is haunted by the thought that Inkatha might unleash the dogs of war on the green hills of KwaZulu-Natal and that investors, scared off by fresh images of murder and destruction, will not be able to improve the plight of his black constituency.

One man seems to have lost his fear of Mr Buthelezi. King Goodwill Zwelithini, a victim for years of Buthelezi bullying, has finally rebelled, after meekly serving the Inkatha leader's political designs during the run-up to the elections.

Since the elections, control of his funds and security having passed from Mr Buthelezi to Pretoria, the king has summoned up the courage to assert his independence. On Tuesday he announced that celebrations in memory of his ancestor, Shaka, the founder of the Zulu nation, would be cancelled. He summarily dismissed Mr Buthelezi from the court.

The Zulu drama took a new turn yesterday, when Mr Buthelezi declared the festivities would proceed on Saturday, regardless of the monarch's wishes. The Zulu national day will be transformed into an Inkatha rally, in what Mr Buthelezi will see as a test of loyalties.

African National Congress leaders in KwaZulu-Natal say they fear the stage is set for an explosion. Their supporters in the province are impatient with Mr Mandela. 'Mandela must not be weak,' said a Zulu ANC supporter from Durban. 'He must use his resources in the state to back up the king and put that man finally in his place.' But Mr Mandela, sensing he may be in trouble whatever policy he adopts, has decided to turn a blind eye in KwaZulu-Natal.

(Photograph omitted)