Buthelezi Deals Himself Out in S. Africa

CHIEF Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the KwaZulu homeland, has become a part of the problem. No longer is he a part of South Africa's solution.

Irascible, vengeful, and an ethnic autocrat, Chief Buthelezi has overplayed his political hand. Once a brave opponent of apartheid with a canny ability to twist the mad logic of white domination to his own and black South Africa's advantage, Buthelezi has in recent years flirted with apartheid in order to keep his own claims to power alive.

Now that the ruling white government of President Frederik de Klerk is apologizing for inflicting apartheid on South Africa and attempting anew to forge a meaningful relationship with Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC), Buthelezi has lashed out at them both.

In the early 1970s, when apartheid entered what would be its final flush of naked repression, Buthelezi turned the government's cynical policy of separate development on its head. As a homeland leader who had been a member of the ANC and claimed to be a disciple of the imprisoned Mr. Mandela, Buthelezi refused to do the government's bidding. He also refused to declare KwaZulu independent, as whites wished.

In 1973 Buthelezi even caused consternation by shouting "we shall overcome" from a hotel balcony in Umtata, the Transkei, after a summit meeting of homeland leaders. Along with the black power leader Steve Biko, Buthelezi was the loudest and most effective opposition figure during this period.

The ANC was a weak exile organization at this time. Most of its leaders were in prison. After the 1976 Soweto rising, however, and the politicization of black South Africa that followed, the ANC grew in influence. Many young blacks fled South Africa to join its guerrilla ranks.

Buthelezi was seen increasingly as a government stooge by the young black community leaders who became prominent after the Soweto rising. The charge was unfair, but it was also true that Buthelezi intensely disliked sharing the opposition political stage with others. Nor would he countenance democratic initiatives of others within his own homeland.

In the 1980s the battle between Buthelezi and proxies for the ANC, which was still banned, became intense. Whether or not Buthelezi ordered, encouraged, or condoned attacks by his followers (the Inkatha movement, now a party, was re-established during this period) on cadres loyal to the ANC, turf battles that began in Pietermaritzburg spread by the end of the decade to all of the Zulu home province of Natal.

Deaths in what was called black-on-black violence amounted to 5,000 by early this year. Moreover, by 1990 ANC-Inkatha clashes had spread to Soweto and other African enclaves within the Transvaal. There were bitter assaults on Africans in villages and on hostel dwellers in townships. Guns replaced knives, spears, and other "ceremonial" weapons as the instruments of mayhem.

THE Boipatong massacre last June, in which Zulu warriors killed 37 ANC adherents, was only the most recently publicized incident of its kind. The government and right-wing whites have been accused of assisting Inkatha and possibly of providing funds and weapons.

Throughout, Buthelezi has sought parity with Mandela for himself and his regional political movement. He has refused to bring Inkatha and the Zulu into the ANC. He continues to insist on a post-apartheid constitution that would enshrine regional autonomy and give him and his people a major role in a federal government of South Africa.

In a world increasingly ethnicized and beset by regional nationalisms, Buthelezi's role is understandable if not laudable. So is his rage recently against De Klerk and Mandela for reopening negotiations. Increasingly, Buthelezi seems intent primarily on obstructing political progress, whatever the cost.

KwaZulu is supported financially by South Africa's white parliament. Many Zulu, particularly urban residents, back the ANC. Of the 7 million Zulu who live in South Africa, possibly half support Inkatha (which claims 1 million members) and Buthelezi. But no one can know for sure, and no homeland elections or referendums are scheduled.

It is premature to call Buthelezi a spent force. But if the government and the ANC cleave together and begin successfully to construct a post-apartheid South Africa, Buthelezi, Chief Lucas Mangope of the Bophuthatswana homeland, and the leaders of Ciskei and QwaQwa will become increasingly marginalized.

Regions will be important, but the homelands will disappear. The regions will be less ethnically homogenous than the homelands, and will of necessity have to work with an ANC-led national government.

Buthelezi's role as a spoiler will not benefit the Zulu and may even lose him primacy in Natal. If he continues to make common cause with conservative whites and the other forces of reaction, his influence in and over South Africa's future will diminish further.

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