Leading Article: Putting pressure on Chief Buthelezi

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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICA's recent history is full of ironies. To them can be added the welcome extended yesterday by the ANC to the state of emergency declared by the government in the KwaZulu-Natal region and the dispatch there of units of the South African Defence Force. In the past it was via prolonged states of emergency that white South African governments imposed their repressive regime, under which thousands of blacks were detained without trial. The army was not as closely identified with oppression as the police. But latterly, it too became involved in putting down civil unrest.

The low-level civil war that has been waged in Natal for some 10 years between supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC has claimed at least 10,000 lives. The violence has been greatly inflamed by the boycott unilaterally imposed on this month's first multiracial elections by the Inkatha leader, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. One of his fears is that free elections will reveal the relative weakness of his support.

Judging by his reaction to the state of emergency, which he yesterday called 'humiliating', the likelihood of him and the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, attending next week's meeting with President F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela is not high. That encounter seemed to represent a last chance of the election boycott in KwaZulu being lifted. The best hope now lies in isolating Chief Buthelezi by winning over King Goodwill and KwaZulu's civil servants, who depend on Pretoria for their salaries.

Chief Buthelezi's position has already been weakened by the departure from the Freedom Alliance (embracing Inkatha and far-right white groups) of General Constand Viljoen and his Freedom Front. Mr Viljoen's defection followed the abortive involvement last month of far-right Boer militants in strife in Bophuthatswana. The homeland was subsequently dissolved.

For Mr de Klerk, Monday's march by Inkatha supporters on the ANC's headquarters in Johannesburg seems to have been the final straw - as too for Chief Buthelezi, who suspects the shooting of his men was an ANC device to justify more drastic measures against Inkatha.

The big question now is whether there will be a bloody clash between the army and Inkatha Zulus who have been armed and trained by white extremists. A show of force by the military may be necessary. But the lesson of Africa is that violence only begets violence. To go on squeezing Chief Buthelezi into submission would be the wiser strategy.