Raucous Zulus display readiness for war

THE ZULU King, Goodwill Zwelithini, his chief minister and uncle, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, princes and princesses of the Zulu royal family and a host of heavily armed Inkatha supporters descended on Pretoria yesterday to threaten F W de Klerk with war. King Goodwill said it. The banners in the crowd said it. And the guns said it.

The meeting between the Zulu entourage and the South African President had barely got under way at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, when scores of people in the 30,000-strong crowd started firing into the air with pistols and automatic rifles. The shooting, in the shadow of the President's office, continued for five minutes. No one, apparently, was hurt. But the message came through loud and clear. The banners in the crowd all offered variations on the 'there will be no peace without us' theme.

The King, in his speech to Mr de Klerk, said: 'It is my fervent hope that the Zulu matters of state which I have raised with you today, sir, can be dealt with in discussions and negotiations and that we will not finally face a competition between the ballot box and the ability of the Zulu people to resist.'

The King, financially and politically in his uncle's pocket, was restating Inkatha's long-standing ultimatum: either you accommodate our wishes or we will violently sabotage the April elections.

It was a puzzling speech, written very much in the inflammatory style favoured by Chief Buthelezi himself. On the one hand the King said he spoke 'for every Zulu, regardless of party affiliation'. On the other he denounced Mr de Klerk's National Party for being 'in cahoots with the ANC and the South African Communist Party', the alliance which, as two polls published in the last week have shown, most Zulus support.

'How do you, sir,' King Goodwill asked, 'expect me and my Amakhosi (Zulu leaders) to encourage our people to commit this national suicide by participating in elections on these terms?'

The problem seemed to be that the word KwaZulu had been dropped from the new constitution in an apparent slight to the Zulu monarchy, and that the government and the ANC had agreed that one ballot would be held instead of two. Inkatha wants two simultaneous ballots on 27 April - one for the national government and another for the new provincial governments, instead of one for both.

Given that these were the only two demands the King made in what turned out to be an inconclusive three-hour meeting, it was rather surprising that he should paint failure to meet them as a recipe for 'national suicide' and cause for Zulu 'resistance'.

These were fine political points unlikely to have sent 'shock waves', as the King claimed they had, through the psyche of that sector of the Zulu nation who invaded Pretoria yesterday. They arrived in buses from Natal, Zulu country, and mini-bus taxis and trains from Johannesburg's township belt. Those who arrived by train - many in leopard skins, all carrying spears - upset the good burghers of Pretoria by swilling beer and performing what might have been interpreted as a mass urination ceremony on the pavement of a busy city centre street. Amid the general drunkenness it was not entirely surprising, as an appalled black policeman observed, that one man in Zulu dress should have been speared to death, apparently by his own people.

The distress felt in Pretoria was as nothing, however, compared to the grief yesterday in Alexandra township, just outside Johannesburg, where after nine months of calm the local war restarted. Inkatha hostel-dwellers opened fire on passers-by, killing three, and then proceeded to burn down a dozen shacks. Another nine died in clashes in Katlehong and Thokoza, where the fighting has been raging unabated since last May, and tension was also high in Soweto.