Zulu king takes flight after clash with his uncle

THE South African media got itself into a ferment after reports from the Zulu royal palace that King Goodwill Zwelithini and six of his family had been spotted boarding an army helicopter on Thursday afternoon.

Coming at the end of a week when relations between the king and his uncle, Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, revived memories of the Shah of Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini, such excitement was understandable.

The king only deepened the speculation when he spoke darkly on Thursday night's television news about 'certain elements' having 'stabbed him in the back'. He denied he was on the run.

The mystery was partly resolved yesterday by sources close to the royal family who told the Independent that the king was suffering from 'nervous tension' and had flown to Johannesburg to see a specialist recommended by Nelson Mandela. The helicopter had been provided at President Mandela's request.

Just how serious the king's illness was remained unclear but what appeared beyond doubt was that his condition had been brought on during his encounter on Monday with Mr Mandela and Mr Buthelezi at his palace in Nongoma. As the three leaders spoke, Mr Buthelezi's supporters were shouting insults at Mr Mandela, stoning his helicopter and acclaiming Mr Buthelezi with the Zulu greeting traditionally reserved only for the king: 'Bayete' meaning 'Hail' or 'Greatness'.

Mr Buthelezi, who is home affairs minister in Mr Mandela's government of national unity, told parliament in Cape Town on Thursday that the king had broken down and started bleeding during the meeting.

It was in the bitter aftermath of the unseemly events at Nongoma that the king announced the severing of all ties with his uncle and the cancellation of this weekend's annual Shaka Day ceremony. Mr Buthelezi's decision to press ahead with the festivities would have done little to improve the king's condition.

African National Congress leaders in KwaZulu-Natal have said that what Inkatha will do today is traduce the name of Shaka, the founder of the Zulu nation, by relegating his day to the status of 'an Inkatha function'. The army will be on standby in case of trouble and Mr Buthelezi has sent the king two cows in atonement for the behaviour of his supporters.

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