South African Elections: Inkatha Zulu chief looks for a miracle at the polls

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THE AIR of liberation filled the streets of the KwaZulu homeland capital, Ulundi, yesterday as thousands of spear-carrying supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party marched to celebrate Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's decision to lift a boycott on South Africa's first all-race elections next week.

A crowd of 20,000 people cheered and sang 'konamange,' or 'now' in Zulu, as a triumphant Chief Buthelezi, smiling and waving a glass sceptre on the back of a pickup truck, rode into the rally behind the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly to launch the election campaign of his mainly Zulu Inkatha party. 'Who must govern South Africa?' an Inkatha official at the podium shouted, and the crowd roared back Chief Buthelezi's 'praise' name, 'Shenge'. 'Vote Shenge, vote democracy,' they chanted.

'We are all so happy that now we can vote,' said Alice Dlamini, a 31-year-old housewife who marched through the streets of Ulundi for an hour before the rally. 'This is what we have been waiting for so long a time.' The carnival atmosphere was infectious, with several elderly white women wearing Inkatha T-shirts dancing in rhythm next to huge shirtless pot-bellied Zulu warriors carrying shields and assegais.

Chief Buthelezi's decision to enter the elections lifted a veil of gloom that had fallen over Ulundi in recent weeks as confrontation deepened between Inkatha and both President F W de Klerk's government and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. 'I did so to save the country from disaster,' Chief Buthelezi told reporters before addressing the rally.

He said it would be 'nave' to think that the civil war between Inkatha and the ANC, which has claimed 10,000 lives in the past four years, would disappear. 'It will be difficult to imagine that all tension can vanish in a few days. . .we would hope tension will somehow be decreased.' But he repeated his description of the 31 March state of emergency in Natal as 'an invasion' and said that Mr de Klerk had rejected his plea to lift it. 'The National People Killing Force' was the way he described the National Peace-keeping Force, a multi-party security force deployed briefly around Zulu hostels in the East Rand townships near Johannesburg.

Chief Buthelezi, wearing a pink rose, addressed the jubilant crowd after Inkatha officials read statements lauding his leadership. 'We are grateful we have a leader like Dr Buthelezi,' said one, while another declared: 'There is no leader in this country who can compare to you.' Chief Buthelezi giggled as the praise was heaped upon him.

But he sounded a note of caution about Inkatha's electoral prospects - opinion polls have put its voter support at about 20 per cent in Natal, its main stronghold, and five per cent nationally. 'It would be a miracle of course if we do well in the election,' he announced, but then said he was hoping for one. As head of Inkatha's national election list, Chief Buthelezi could gain a seat in the government if it wins five per cent of the vote.

He showed the crowd a mock ballot paper with an Inkatha entry at the bottom, and said it had been difficult to convince Mr de Klerk to allow Inkatha that place since the ruling National Party had 'spent a lot of money advertising it would be at the bottom'. Chief Buthelezi credited the ANC leader with breaking the deadlock, saying that 'Mandela said there should be some evenhandedness' because of Inkatha's late entry into the race. 'So I am asking you to go for the bottom,' he shouted.

Inkatha's campaign would focus on free enterprise economics and federalism, and Chief Buthelezi said he was running on his 40- year record as a major political figure in Zululand. 'You can trust me because I have never lied to you,' he said, and defended his past opposition to international sanctions against apartheid which he admitted had made him 'a laughing stock'.

Inkatha had achieved its goal of enshrining recognition of the Zulu Kingdom in the constitution, which parliament was scheduled to do on 25 April, a day before the polls open. 'You are free to make your choice. . .now that my dream is coming true, I hope you will let me complete my job.'

(Photograph omitted)

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