JOHANNESBURG — THE power struggle between Home Affairs Minister Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, has taken an extraordinary turn with an on-air fracas Sunday night in which Chief Buthelezi burst into a television studio with armed guards and chastised a Zulu royal spokesman during an interview.
The unprecedented confrontation was witnessed by millions of stunned South African viewers during the live program, Agenda. It has placed an unresolved power struggle in Zulu ranks - which flared in the run-up to the country's first all-race elections in April - back onto the national political agenda, and has put new strains on the fledgling government of national unity (GNU) in which Buthelezi serves.
Over the weekend, Buthelezi had captured the political high-ground in his power-struggle with the king. But his television appearance has turned public opinion against him and given the efforts by the African National Congress (ANC) to remove the monarchy from the control of Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) new impetus.
``This is a major setback for Buthelezi,'' says Natal University political scientist Mervyn Frost. ``ANC supporters will use his latest action to good effect to show him up as the wild cannon he clearly is.''
Buthelezi's action has been sharply condemned by politicians across the political spectrum; and executives of the state-funded but independently managed South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) called it a direct assault on freedom of speech.
The latest row between Buthelezi and King Goodwill, his nephew, follows 20 years of conflict between the two Zulu leaders, who have maintained a strained alliance that has preserved unity among traditional Zulus and led to the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) election victory in KwaZulu/Natal Province in the April elections.
Buthelezi's intervention followed a decision last week by King Goodwill, who is now under military guard at an undisclosed venue, to cancel the Shaka Day celebrations and sever all further contact with Buthelezi.
The Shaka Day anniversary, the most revered date on the calendar of traditional Zulus, went ahead Saturday and Sunday in KwaZulu/Natal without the king.
Last week President Nelson Mandela, who had been invited to attend the celebrations by King Goodwill, declined after a three-way meeting with the king and Buthelezi in which, according to diplomats, it was agreed that the Zulu monarchy would be removed from the political arena.
Since the April election, the king has moved to break free of the hold that Buthelezi's IFP had on him before the election. Responsibility for paying the king's salary has passed from the now defunct IFP-controlled KwaZulu government to the ANC-led GNU in Pretoria.
But Buthelezi gained the high ground on Shaka Day, attracting a substantial crowd of Zulus.
IN his Shaka Day speech, Buthelezi surprised some observers by distancing himself from the creation of a sovereign Zulu state with an executive monarch - a position he backed strongly before the elections.
``There is no room for a separate or independent Zulu kingdom,'' Buthelezi told about 6,000 followers who attended the Shaka Day anniversary.
Buthelezi does not recognize the ``royal committee'' that announced the king's cancellation of the event, and insists he was not consulted over the invitation to Mr. Mandela.
SABC head Zwelakhe Sisulu said the ``strongest possible legal action would be taken'' against Buthelezi. ``The SABC's editorial integrity and independence have been seriously undermined by what can only be described as an invasion of our television studio and the forcible takeover of the Agenda program,'' said Mr. Sisulu, who took charge of the SABC three weeks ago.
Spokesmen of the National Party, the ANC, the Democratic Party, the South African Communist Party (SACP), and journalist groups roundly condemned Buthelezi and demanded an apology from him. The SACP demanded that he be declared unfit for office as a Cabinet minister.
``No politician, no matter how prominent and powerful, ... should be able to disrupt a TV program in a way in which it appeared the minister of home affairs did,'' said Democratic Party acting leader Tony Leon.
The government had not reacted to the television debacle at the time of publication.
During 10 minutes of chaos in the studio, the royal spokesman, Prince Sifiso Zulu, jumped off his chair and, according to Buthelezi, tried to draw a gun. He was overpowered by Buthelezi's armed guards and fled the studio.
Stunned viewers heard Buthelezi confronting Prince Sifiso about earlier claims that Buthelezi was no longer the rightful adviser of the Zulu monarch.
The IFP yesterday accused the prince of trying to assassinate Buthelezi and called for a police investigation. Sifiso alleged the gun was planted on him.