The proclamation of independence for KwaZulu by King Goodwill Zwelethini is a dread omen for his Zulu people. It is saying that the April 26-28 election in South Africa will not apply to KwaZulu, and that the king is not willing to live in a South Africa governed largely by the African National Congress (ANC).
This comes as the king's kinsman, Prime Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, is the last major black holdout against the election and against the great national settlement hatched largely by the ANC's Nelson Mandela and white South Africa's President F. W. de Klerk. Mr. Buthelezi knows that his own appeal is regionally and tribally circumscribed, and that many of his own Zulu people belong to the ANC and support Mr. Mandela.
This breakdown in what might have been an accord between the two main black political movements came after Mr. Mandela canceled a visit to the Zulu king, citing security concerns. Everyone expects Mr. Mandela to become the country's president after next month's election, which heightens the possibility of enemies trying to bump him off first.
But the Zulu defiance also comes after chaos in another black homeland, Bophuthatswana, ended in the collapse of the black apartheid regime there and the routing of white reactionary forces invading to defend it, followed by the freed people's tumultuous greeting to Mr. Mandela. Mr. Buthelezi clearly fears Mr. Mandela's popularity.
The KwaZulu king and prime minister no doubt enjoy the semblance of power and dignity that South Africa's apartheid regime provided by pretending that part of Natal Province was really their country of KwaZulu. It really wasn't. The Zulu people are inextricably part of modern South Africa, and most of them want either to participate in its future or at least live a tranquil and reasonably prosperous life. KwaZulu nationalism offers them neither, only strife and chaos.
An agreement to participate in the election and accept its outcome would be the best service that King Goodwill Zwelethini and Mr. Buthelezi could do for their Zulu people.