The march was the beginning of what the ANC has called a 'rolling mass action campaign' to press for free political activity in KwaZulu and the province of Natal which surrounds it.
It took place as the low-level civil war between the ANC and Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party showed signs of intensifying, following the call made a week ago at a rally of 12,000 people by the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, for the establishment of a sovereign Zulu kingdom. About 90 people have died in political violence in Natal since then.
The ANC deputy secretary-general and candidate for premier of Natal, Jacob Zuma, said that, while Zulus respected the King, he was being used by Chief Buthelezi. 'Here is a King whom we respect, but the King must not be used by political organisations,' he said. Another speaker said 'a proud Zulu is not afraid of voting.'
'Zwelithini is our King, but he has no right to tell us not to vote,' said Joyce Dlamini, a robust 37- year-old housewife. 'There are many of us who want to vote. It is our first chance.'
The rally was mainly peaceful, though the prospect of tens of thousands of ANC supporters marching through Durban apparently dissuaded mainly white cricket-lovers from attending the first of the five- day third and final test match against Australia.
The ANC marchers were in a militant mood, with groups of young men brandishing spears and axes performing the toyi-toyi dance through the main avenues. One man carried a poster which said, 'Jacob, Jacob, Jacob, bring me the head of Zwelithini.'
The black townships around Durban, which have been inflamed by ANC-Inkatha violence in recent days, were mainly quiet. At Umlazi yesterday morning, however, Inkatha snipers near Sophia neighbourhood fired occasional rounds into an ANC stronghold called Nujoma, wounded one man and burnt down four homes. Peace monitors who patrol the area and residents who were waiting for buses to take them to the ANC rally described it as a typical day.
President F W de Klerk, who met the ANC president, Nelson Mandela, on Thursday to discuss KwaZulu, described the situation in Natal as 'volatile and explosive' and said he was planning to meet Chief Buthelezi soon. Mr Mandela has requested a private meeting with King Zwelithini to replace a planned encounter in the KwaZulu capital, Ulundi, on 18 March, aborted after ANC claims of an assassination plot against its leader.
The ANC marchers presented a memorandum to the Transitional Executive Council, the multi-party body overseeing South Africa's transition to democracy, which called on Mr de Klerk's government to replace the KwaZulu homeland police with South African police and send the South African Defence Force there.
It also urged the government to stop the training of pro-Inkatha 'self-protection units' by a former intelligence officer, Philip Powell, and members of the extreme right- wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB).
The rally yesterday followed a demonstration on Thursday in Ulundi by several thousand civil servants and schoolchildren demanding postponement of the April elections until international mediation between the ANC and Inkatha has run its course. The Ulundi marchers burnt ANC and South African flags and carried a giant banner saying 'KwaZulu is forever'.