De Klerk, Zulu king discuss black rule

January 18, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulus, made the journey yesterday that so many leaders of indigenous people have made over the centuries -- to see the white rulers of his country to talk about his status.

But there was one major difference in this meeting that generated a tempestuous demonstration yesterday. His meeting with South African President F. W. de Klerk was to discuss his future when black rule comes to this country after the April 27 election.

King Goodwill faces the loss of some power after elections. His semi-autonomous kingdom of KwaZulu was set up under apartheid as the homeland for the Zulu people, part of the attempt to deny blacks South African citizenship.

Under this arrangement, King Goodwill has maintained a lifestyle befitting his regal status, but has actually had little authority.

Whatever power KwaZulu could exercise independent of Pretoria rested in the hands of the king's cousin, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Inkatha Freedom Party and chief minister of KwaZulu. That means Mr. Buthelezi controls the king's salary among other things.

In the new constitution, KwaZulu and all the other black homelands will disappear with the country made up of nine regions without ethnic basis.

Exactly what would happen to the king, as well as the homeland rulers who have built up their own little fiefdoms of patronage and power, is not clear. That's one reason several homeland leaders, including Mr. Buthelezi, have opposed the new constitution.

As usual, Mr. Buthelezi accompanied King Goodwill yesterday. While the Inkatha leader constantly claims that his political role is separate from the that of the king, who is above politics, Mr. Buthelezi rarely lets the monarch appear in public alone.

The confusion between Inkatha and the Zulu royalty was evident in the days leading up to yesterday's visit. Johannesburg-area Inkatha leaders at first called for Zulus to stay away from work yesterday and instead assemble in Pretoria to support their king.

Then the national Inkatha leadership distanced themselves from that call, stating that the king's visit had nothing to do with Inkatha politics, and should be seen simply as a Zulu cultural event.

But the word was out. Near chaos erupted in several Johannesburg area townships yesterday morning as Zulus, many of whom live in hostels, tried to enforce the work boycott and recruit demonstrators for Pretoria.

There were widespread reports of hijacked taxis and other forms of intimidation. A bus was burned in Soweto. In Alexandra, a township that has been peaceful for a year, fights again broke out between township residents and hostel dwellers. Several deaths were reported.

In the end about 10,000 Zulus came in taxis, vans and trains from the townships and scores of buses from the KwaZulu and surrounding Natal.

They gathered on the grass at the foot of Pretoria's impressive state government headquarters, the Union Buildings, chanting and dancing and listening to speeches for much of the day leading up to the three hour meeting between their king and President de Klerk which did not begin until 3:30 p.m.

Most were armed with so-called traditional weapons, clubs called knobkerries, spears and shields made of hide. But at least a few had guns.

Yesterday's meeting was requested by King Goodwill, but was seen by the government as a chance to drive a wedge between the Zulu leader and Mr. Buthelezi who led his Inkatha Party away from the talks that wrote the country's new constitution.

Mr. Buthelezi continues to refuse to commit to taking part in the April elections unless his demands for more regional autonomy are met.

Without King Goodwill's apparent support, Mr. Buthelezi would lose much of his call on the ethnic loyalties of Zulus, something he can ill-afford to do. Two recent polls show Inkatha's support is dwindling as the country's blacks clearly want to vote in this election.

But, with Mr. Buthelezi and a contingent of Inkatha officials accompanying the monarch, there was little chance of dividing the king's loyalties yesterday even though the government will probably have little problem agreeing to one of the king's major demands -- to restore the name KwaZulu to the province of Natal, making it KwaZulu/Natal on the new map of South Africa.

Though the visit of the king might have followed an old path, the result was typical of the new South Africa -- the appointment of a committee, this one a working group of government and Zulu officials to work out some appropriate guarantees of the king's status after the elections.

Government officials seemed certain that they will be able to satisfy the king's demands and again hope that this will split him from Mr. Buthelezi. The Inkatha Party leader has his own set of demands that are currently under negotiation with the government and the African National Congress (ANC), Nelson Mandela's party that is certain to win the April vote.

Those negotiations face a Jan. 24 deadline as any resolution may require reconvening Parliament to pass amendments. In those talks, Inkatha is joined by white, right-wing groups that also want more regional autonomy.

If the king tells his subjects that he is satisfied with the results of the this working group, that will put even more pressure on Mr. Buthelezi to reach a settlement in his negotiations and participate in the elections.

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