ULUNDI, South Africa -- Mangosuthu Buthelezi becomes visibly annoyed at the suggestion that he might enhance his stature by rubbing shoulders with Nelson Mandela.
He waves his arms. He locks his fingers and twiddles his thumbs. He twists around in his chair. And he dismisses the suggestion with colorful terms like "balder--," "rubbish" and "crap."
Mr. Buthelezi is a prince of the Zulu tribe, which once reigned supreme in southern Africa, and he speaks proudly of the "warrior blood in our veins." He also is head of government in this self-governing black homeland of KwaZulu, where the little airstrip is named Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Airport and where his statue watches over the parliament chamber.
While Mr. Mandela was sitting in South African jails, the Zulu leader was being hosted by European and American heads of state, as the picture gallery in his office attests.There are photographs of him with Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. And a picture with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who is draped in a fake animal skin robe and who described Mr. Buthelezi as a "chief of chiefs."
"I don't need Dr. Mandela. I have my own constituency. I don't owe anything to him," said the Zulu leader, sitting in his modern office in this mountainous capital of KwaZulu, where goats graze on the front lawn of the government office complex. "In fact it is I who has worked for Dr. Mandela's release. There's nothing that he has done for me personally."
Over the past seven months, since Mr. Mandela emerged triumphant from 27 years in prison, the Zulu leader has called repeatedly for a meeting between the two. The calls became more urgent as fighting escalated between supporters of the leaders, resulting in more than 700 deaths in the last month of township violence around Johannesburg.
But Mr. Mandela's followers and advisers in the African National Congress have bitterly opposed such a meeting, as they bitterly oppose Mr. Buthelezi himself. They accused him of fomenting violence in order to compel the ANC leader to meet him,which they say would raise Mr. Buthelezi's stature.
He dismisses the charge.
"It was never our policy to unleash violence against anyone," he says of his Zulu-based political movement Inkatha. "Whereas on the other hand ANC and their surrogates have always advocated violence. They have always advocated a people's war. They have always advocated violence against those they call collaborators. They have always advocated violence against those they said were working in the system."
The 62-year-old Zulu chief was once an ANC member. He notes that his uncle, Pixley Seme, was an ANC founder in 1912. His supporters point out that the ANC supported the Zulu leader's decision to accept KwaZulu's status as a homeland but to reject the so-called independence the white government tried to foist on the homeland in an effort to deny its Zulu residents South African citizenship.
But Mr. Buthelezi split with the organization in 1979. He said it veered from its original commitment to democracy and nonviolence. ANC leaders charged that he tried to trade on the ANC's popularity to build his own power base and advance his
own cause. They also accused him of collaborating with the government when it suited his purposes, even if his actions hurt the overall anti-apartheid movement led by the ANC.
In KwaZulu, Mr. Buthelezi built up his political constituency b combining Zulu traditions and modern politics. As a traditional leader and one who has worked to revive Zulu pride, he dresses in animal skins and leads tribal ceremonies such as last week's reed dance, where bare-breasted maidens danced for men in the tribe. As a modern political leader, he administers the KwaZulu government and Parliament, and he travels around the world speaking out against apartheid.
He also speaks out against the ANC's major tools in its war against apartheid -- economic sanctions and the recently suspended guerrilla campaign. Those stands made him popular with conservative governments, such as Mrs. Thatcher's and Mr. Reagan's, but it made him a traitor in the eyes of the ANC.
"ANC has seen itself as the government waiting in the wings," he said, and cannot tolerate opposition from Inkatha or any other black group that doesn't toe the ANC line. He noted that the ANC also is not on speaking terms with the Pan Africanist Congress, a left-wing group that was banned for decades, along with the ANC.
"The collaboration tag which they tried to paste on me cannot be attached to the PAC. Why is it that they don't speak to PAC even now? Because they see themselves as the government waiting in the wings and all of us must be eliminated. Because they have no political tolerance. Because they are the only people who must run the country. Because they have not abandoned the idea of a one-party socialist state."