THE demand by the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, on Feb. 14 for an independent and sovereign Zulu kingdom has caused alarm in diplomatic and political circles.
His ultimatum raises questions about the long-term objectives of Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has called for a boycott of the elections unless Zulu demands for autonomy are met.
``I fear that the king's bottom line is an independent kingdom like Swaziland,'' a concerned Western diplomat says. ``That is a malicious demand which is designed to inflict maximum damage on the fragile transition to democracy.''
Recent opinion polls conducted by private pollsters indicate that the majority of Zulus want to take part in the election and would resist traditional Zulu rule.
The polls suggest that most Zulus support the African National Congress (ANC) and that Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha Party would win only 25 percent of the vote in Natal.
Buthelezi is dependent on funds from Pretoria to run the administrative machinery of KwaZulu, the Zulu homeland, and has neither the security forces nor independent sources of revenue to run a Zulu state.
Attempts at accommodation
President Frederik de Klerk played down King Goodwill's demands following a meeting in Durban on Feb. 14 in which the king hinted strongly at secession rather than accepting a constitution that denied Zulu autonomy.
But a government official concedes that the two leaders had talked past each other. ``They were broadcasting on completely different wave bands,'' one official says. ``Rational debate doesn't seem to be the way to go.... You can't reason with them.''
After three hours of talks, President De Klerk and the Zulu monarch issued a joint statement saying that the ``new position'' of the king could be accommodated within the framework of the interim constitution agreed upon by multiparty negotiators last November, with possible amendments.
But De Klerk and Buthelezi differed sharply at a news conference after the meeting as to whether accommodation of Zulu demands was possible under the interim constitution.
Buthelezi has found himself increasingly marginalized politically in recent months and appears to have decided to use the broader appeal of the king to further his demands.
The king closed ranks with Buthelezi on Feb. 14, saying that the success of Zulu claims for sovereignty rested with Buthelezi.
The ANC has also expressed a willingness to negotiate with the king over the future of the monarchy and the KwaZulu region, which would be integrated into the administration of Natal Province after the April ballot.
Jacob Zuma, candidate for the position of Natal premier and the ANC's most senior Zulu, has praised the king and kept open lines to Buthelezi. But he has been unable, so far, to arrange a meeting between ANC President Nelson Mandela and the king.
De Klerk was booed by a crowd of about 20,000 Zulus who waited outside the Durban City Hall during the talks on Feb. 14 when he said he would respond on Feb. 17 to the king's demands.
``I am not in favor of secession of any part of South Africa,'' De Klerk told a news conference after the meeting. ``I don't think that is really what his majesty and KwaZulu are looking for.''
The king and Inkatha leader Buthelezi said they regard the restoration of a sovereign Zulu kingdom as nonnegotiable.
``I am asking for something that belongs to me and my people - no one else,'' King Goodwill said.
``I am preparing myself to promulgate the constitution of KwaZulu and Natal, which will establish a monarchy modeled after the best examples of democratic and pluralistic monarchies in the world,'' said King Goodwill in a memorandum delivered to De Klerk before the meeting - their third in four weeks.
Package already offered
The government and ANC have already offered Inkatha - as a member of the conservative Freedom Alliance, a right-wing umbrella group - a package of amendments that include exclusive powers for the provinces, guarantees for provincial constitutions, separate national and regional votes, and self-determination for ethnic minorities.
``The obvious compromise would be for the ANC to control the cities like Durban and Pietermaritzburg and for the Zulu Kingdom to be symbolically restored in northern Natal,'' says Heribert Adam, a political scientist attached to the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
When King Goodwill opened talks with De Klerk in mid-January, there seemed hope for a compromise that would ensure the king's future constitutional position, his salary by a future government, and his symbolic position as monarch, while allowing Inkatha to take part in the election.
In an address to some 20,000 supporters at Durban's King's Park Stadium on Feb. 14, the Zulu king said he was not prepared to negotiate with De Klerk the ``reality'' of a Zulu kingdom based on the boundaries that existed before 1834 when conflict with the Boers (Afrikaners) began, and later with the British.
In terms of the interim constitution, the KwaZulu self-governing homeland will cease to exist as a separate entity after the April 26-29 elections, and the new government will become the paymasters of the homeland bureaucracy and the widely despised KwaZulu police force.