THEY may call each other affectionate nicknames, but the ongoing squabble between South Africa's President Nelson Mandela and the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Mangosuthu Buthelezi threatens to destabilize the country's fragile unity.
Having dazzled the world with their own homegrown negotiated revolution, the South African leaders - "Madiba" and "Shenge," the familiar clan names used for Mandela and Buthelezi respectively - are at an impasse over a new constitutional model.
The power struggle between Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) and IFP for control of the fractious Inkatha stronghold of the KwaZulu-Natal region on the east coast of the country has intensified in recent weeks.
In a bid to lure Zulu chiefs away from the somewhat feudal control of Chief Buthelezi, Mandela has proposed that the chiefs be paid by the central government. In turn, Buthelezi - incensed by the separate arrests of two IFP officials in the last 10 days on charges of political killings - has accused Mandela of usurping provincial powers and preparing for a crackdown.
Currently the country is under the ANC's interim Constitution that mandates a centralized government. Inkatha wants more regionalized power for KwaZulu-Natal and is boycotting the constituent assembly, the multiparty body responsible for drawing up a new constitution, until the ANC fulfills its promise of international mediation on the subject of their independence.
"Personal dynamics have overshadowed everything," says Steve Friedman of the Center for Policy Studies, a think tank in Johannesburg. "The ANC's attitude is that Buthelezi is congenitally incapable of negotiating, and that once they start giving in to him, he will stop at nothing and go for complete secession."
In the bloody prelude to last April's first all-race elections, a last-minute agreement by the major parties saved the country from looming civil war. Just days before the polls opened, the two parties - which had fought each other bitterly for years in KwaZulu-Natal - agreed to let international mediators resolve their differences after the elections. At the time the nation breathed a sigh of relief, and the world watched as blacks and whites buried an era of racism.
In the euphoria of peace, constitutional charters were forgotten, and enemies put aside power politics to form a government of national unity. Mandela made Buthelezi his minister of home affairs.
But unfinished business remains. Killings in the KwaZulu-Natal Province between IFP and ANC are mounting steadily, and war talk punctuates their statements.
Though the ANC commands majority support nationwide, Inkatha's gain of just over 50 percent of the vote in Natal took many by surprise. "Basically the ANC didn't expect Inkatha to be an issue at all after the elections and thought that by force of numbers the issue of international mediation would be sidelined," says Paul Pereira, of the Institute of Race Relations in Johannesburg. "Clearly the IFP's insistence on a federal system is a challenge to their dominance. But they must accept that the IFP is entrenched in KwaZulu-Natal, and both must reconcile their differences; otherwise the spiral of violence will continue to grow."
Already this year some 400 have died in KwaZulu-Natal, adding to the 12,000 who have been killed in the past 10 years.
The battle between the two sides goes back 20 years. Despite the fact that their followers in Natal are both from the dominant Zulu tribes, the ANC and Inkatha come from entirely different cultures. Inkatha gains much of its support from the proud warlike traditions of Zulus.
The ANC sees itself as a modern, nationalistic, political movement. Both groups have warlords who have been responsible for many of the killings in the province. But the link between Inkatha's warlords and elements within the security forces is becoming increasingly clearer as top policemen and Inkatha officials have been arrested in the past two weeks for their part in hit-squad activities and massacres that have taken place in the province.
Adding to the current stalemate, renegade Inkatha members have threatened to make the populous Johannesburg region ungovernable until Nelson Mandela is arrested for murder over the shooting of eight Zulus outside ANC's headquarters last March.