The warriors, led by Prince Gideon Zulu, had come to witness the final session of the white parliament, which brought four decades of apartheid and more than three centuries of white domination to a close. Desperate not to cause offence, officials scurried back and forth to the Speaker's office, seeking guidance.
Eventually a perspiring serjeant- at-arms told the prince: 'You will be the guests of the Speaker. He will give you tea and everything. But please, you must leave your weapons here.'
The party checked in their spears and fighting-sticks at the counter where MPs hand over their firearms, and took their seats in the Speaker's Gallery. They were almost the only black witnesses to the final act of the parliament, which was recalled to give constitutional status to their monarch, King Goodwill Zwelethini. In exchange, the mainly Zulu Inkatha party agreed to take part in this week's election.
All around the visitors were tokens of a past which will disappear in days. The Speaker was flanked by two old South African flags, to be replaced at midnight tonight. In the foyer the Zulus passed a giant portrait of the last all-white Cabinet, painted in 1984. Not a single black face is to be seen on the walls of the building, apart from a few ethnographic paintings of unnamed tribesmen in costumes similar to the ones the Zulus were wearing.
The first black person to eat in the members' dining room, where Harold Macmillan delivered his 'wind of change' speech in 1960, was President Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi. The then prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, had a new door put in, so that it would not be necessary to allow President Banda to pass through the corridors of the white legislature.
What to do with the building and its relics is a decision being left to the new government. When the new parliament gathers next week to elect Nelson Mandela as the country's first black President, it will do so in a larger chamber built next door in 1984. Workmen were yesterday still installing translation facilities for the 11 official languages to be recognised in the new South Africa, forcing MPs to meet in the old chamber.
President F W de Klerk sat in the same bench where Dr Verwoerd was attacked by a deranged parliamentary messenger in 1966. There is still a discoloured patch on the carpet, where the chief architect of apartheid bled to death from multiple stab wounds. But there was little sense of history about yesterday's proceedings, which were overshadowed by more recent violence. The elegies for white rule had been uttered at the previous session, which everyone then thought to be the last, and most MPs, banned from campaigning after Sunday night, seized the chance to electioneer.
The chamber was swamped with members of the separate and inferior Coloured (mixed-race) and Indian assemblies, set up in 1984, as well as the white MPs who have met there since 1910.
The well of the house had to be filled with chairs to relieve the crush. Behind the scenes there was an air of improvisation: the recall of parliament had forced administrators to reopen dining-rooms, and scour Cape Town for staff who had not gone on holiday. Each legislature used to have its own ethnically matched staffs, but white messengers in green jackets, Coloureds wearing maroon and Indians in blue were all thrown together yesterday.
All the leading parties in this week's poll were represented. A handful of white MPs who have joined the ANC took their seats at the beginning of the session, but they did not stay to hear Farouk Casim, an Indian who now supports Inkatha, tell the house: 'The king has now won the biggest victory ever.'
Ferdie Hartzenberg, leader of the extreme right-wing Conservatives, reiterated the reasons why his party will not be taking part in the election, but the hubbub of conversation did not cease even when Mr de Klerk rose to speak. After a ritual swipe at the Conservatives - 'I feel sorry for you' - he condemned the bombings of the previous 24 hours, which had killed 19 people, and told 'the embittered and lunatic factions' responsible that they would not be allowed to disrupt the election. The outgoing President wound up: 'The whole of Africa is watching us. The world is watching us. South Africa is on the road to a new horizon.' When Mr Macmillan said in 1960: 'The wind of change is blowing through the continent. Whether we like it or not, the growth of political consciousness is a political fact,' he could never have imagined that it would take 34 years for his words to be echoed in this manner.Reuse content