Zulu king's freedom alarms Buthelezi

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The Independent Online
'FREE AT last]' said Martin Luther King. 'Free at last]' said Nelson Mandela. 'Free at last]', said Goodwill Zwelithini, the Zulu king.

King Goodwill had lunch with Mr Mandela on 11 May, the day after the presidential inauguration in Pretoria. The king commiserated with Mr Mandela over the 27 years he had spent in prison but added words to the effect: 'you must remember, however, that I have spent 24 years as a prisoner too'.

The Zulu king, who took the throne in 1971, meant that he had been a prisoner of his uncle, the Inkatha leader and new Minister of Home Affairs, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Mr Buthelezi, in his former capacity as chief minister of the now defunct KwaZulu 'homeland', had paid the king's salary, controlled his travel arrangements and provided his own guards to look after the king's security.

The main reason King Goodwill toed Inkatha's political line during the election build-up, according to sources in the Zulu royal family, was because he feared - rightly or wrongly - that to do otherwise meant to risk losing his financial privileges.

Under the new arrangements, the king's salary and benefits are provided directly from central government in Pretoria. At last, the king is telling his confidants, he feels that he is his own man.

Mr Buthelezi offered a hint as to his anxiety at the new state of affairs when he pledged: 'I will not allow any leader, any political party or any force to prise me away from your elbow. Your Majesty, I will be there constantly at your side whatever happens.' What will happen in KwaZulu-Natal remains a matter of some concern to the new government. Nowhere has more blood been shed in South Africa these last 10 years, and nowhere are the risks higher of renewed violence and instability.

This was why the ANC leadership agreed, the day before the election results were announced, to overlook the mountains of evidence indicating Inkatha had carried out electoral fraud in KwaZulu-Natal on a massive scale.

The ANC had won comfortably at the national level, Nelson Mandela would be president and if the price of stability was to bow to Inkatha blackmail then, they reasoned, so be it.

Officials of the Independent Electoral Commission in the province were virtually unanimous in their belief that the election should be nullified. But on 6 May the chairman of the IEC went ahead and declared, with the blessing of the ANC, that all over the country the elections had been 'substantially free and fair'. Inkatha officially won KwaZulu-Natal with a shade over 50 per cent of the vote. The ANC accepted 32 per cent.

ANC officials in the province had expected something in return. For example, their failed prime ministerial candidate, Jacob Zuma, had asked for joint control of the police portfolio. But the Inkatha premier, Frank Mdlalose, refused the request.

These and other disputes about the composition of Mr Mdlalose's cabinet led the ANC to boycott the ministers' swearing-in ceremonies in KwaZulu-Natal last week. They also refused to attend the first cabinet meeting, where the ANC holds three of the 10 portfolios.

Behind the intrigue and confusion observers have detected the hand of Mr Buthelezi. By Saturday, he was the only minister in the national Cabinet not to have taken possession of his office in Pretoria. He has spent his time instead in KwaZulu-Natal, the only area where he has any significant support.

(Photograph omitted)