Ordinarily, Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulu nation, and his cousin Mangosuthu Buthelezi, prime minister of the KwaZulu homeland, are rivals for power. But suddenly they are allies.
They both repudiate the future of South Africa to which most parties have agreed. The king supports the prime minister in urging a Zulu boycott of South Africa's first multi-racial election, in April, to choose a parliament that will write a constitution.
More, the king claims all Zulu lands as they existed in 1834, when the Zulu military empire dominated other groups. He says the whites conquered the Zulus but cannot give their land to anyone else -- meaning the African National Congress.
Between them, these Zulu leaders are claiming tribal authority or nationality for a large swatch of Natal province, or over seven million Zulus there and elsewhere. They are proceeding from weakness, afraid of the inroads that Nelson Mandela's ANC is making among Zulu voters. But they are capable of doing great harm.
Violence -- part ethnic, part political -- has gone on for years between Mr. Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC. For a while it was encouraged by the security forces of the government of President F. W. de Klerk and his predecessors. Now it threatens the peace toward which Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Klerk are leading their country. Where they see a unitary state as the only possible legacy of history, their opponents would create a collection of ethnic enclaves.
Now Mr. Mandela has joined Mr. de Klerk in offering the possibility of regional balloting to the rival Freedom Alliance, a concession Mr. Buthelezi has laughed off but white Afrikaner groups are considering.
In this struggle, both sides are multi-racial. All racial groups have representatives on the Transitional Executive Council that has veto power over Mr. de Klerk's executive leadership. Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela are allies. Mr. Buthelezi's party is part of the Freedom Alliance in opposing the national settlement. It includes such groups as the Afrikaner Volksfront, which means to create a white homeland. That is a dream consistent with King Goodwill Zwelithini's hope of reviving his ancestral kingdom, if not with reality.
The Zulu people, like the white people, should see through leaders who would lead them only to separatism and unending (( strife. The Zulu kingdom will not rise again, nor will a Boer republic. Those resisting South Africa's future would do better for their followers by joining to help shape it.