Zulus relive a dream of empire

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The Independent Online
THE KING of the Zulus, who arrived at the wheel of a Mercedes, looked imposing enough in his leopard skins, his headpiece and his royal peacock plume. Mangosuthu Buthelezi, his chief minister, had shed his dark suit for the occasion and, similarly leopardskin-swathed, appeared with a spear in one hand and a shield as tall as a man in the other.

Arrayed before them at a pageant to commemorate Shaka, the founder of the Zulu nation, were 10,000 of their subjects, also brandishing spears. Chief Buthelezi condemned Saturday's agreement between President F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela on a resumption of negotiations between the ANC and the government. As part of the agreement, the government agreed to take steps to ban the carrying of dangerous weapons except in exceptional circumstances.

Chief Buthelezi said: 'As president of the Inkatha Freedom Party, and as chief minister of KwaZulu, I will never, ever, under any circumstances, ever ask anybody for permission to carry a Zulu weapon.' Rejecting planned moves to fence and police violent hostels, he warned that 'the inmates . . . will tear down any fences put around them - and do so with their bare hands if need be'.

'I declare that any laws which the South African government may be able to pilot through parliament giving legal effect to bilateral agreements between itself and the ANC will be rejected as spurious and illegitimate by the IFP,' he said.

Yesterday's ceremony sought to revive former glories. Under the guardianship now of the Inkatha Freedom Party, those Zulus who still cling to the nationalism Shaka forged in the 1820s, when they were the mightiest tribe in Africa, bayed their defiance of the 20th-century king and the new-fangled tribe who now hold sway, Mr Mandela and the ANC.

On the streets of KwaMashu itself, a township separated by a hill from the cityscape of Durban, the residents watched the march-past of the Zulu regiments, the 'impis'. They were Zulus too, but ANC Zulus for the most part. They are urban and Westernised, they speak English and dance in discos, wearing jeans and black mini-skirts. They think of themselves as Zulus but as black South Africans first. These Zulus are Inkatha's and Chief Buthelezi's greatest enemies. And this is why KwaMashu and scores of townships like it in Natal remain South Africa's bloodiest killing-fields.

The recurrent theme of yesterday's ceremony was the ANC's declared plan to march - as Inkatha marched on KwaMashu - on Ulundi, today the seat of Inkatha power and the capital of KwaZulu, the apartheid 'homeland' which the king said his people were ready to die for to defend themselves against Mr Mandela's 'demonised children'.

What is sad about KwaZulu and the king is that the homeland is the most eloquent symbol of his people's defeat at the hands of the white man. Designed as a tribal dumping-ground by the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, it was divided into 44 geographical territories to avoid depriving white farmers of some of the most fertile land in Natal.

The dream is to recover all of Natal to rebuild Shaka's empire. Yesterday's spectacle fleetingly fed that dream. After the king's speech he and his minister strode down to their warriors and, shaking their spears, uttered battlecries and kicked their feet in the air in the manner which curdled the blood of the British soldiers before the Gatling gun dispatched their foe at Ulundi.

A young mother was shot dead and five people were wounded yesterday in a random shooting attack after the rally addressed by Chief Buthelezi, police and witnesses said, AFP reports. Zodwa Mbele, 18, was washing out her three- month-old baby's nappies at a tap in her backyard when she was hit by a bullet in the chest, witnesses said. Neighbours said gunmen in a minibus had cruised down a street near the stadium where Chief Buthelezi spoke, taking potshots at people.