Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Decline and Fall of Chief Buthelezi

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Decline and Fall of Chief Buthelezi

Article excerpt

To many South Africans he is a political villain, the last significant holdout against the new constitutional system. But Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi can also be seen as a tragic figure in the Greek sense: a man undone by his overweening pride.

Buthelezi and his party, Inkatha, are boycotting the election to be held April 27-28. Armed Inkatha toughs have blocked other parties' rallies in KwaZulu, of which he is chief minister. (Violence broke out in downtown Johannesburg Monday after armed Zulus marched to protest against the elections. More than 30 people were reported killed and more than 200 were wounded.)

How did a man who saw himself as a colleague of Nelson Mandela's get into such a position? Can he really disrupt the election to the point of making it illegitimate?

When the apartheid regime set up black "homelands" 20 years ago and tried to spin them off as supposedly independent countries, Buthelezi accepted the leadership of KwaZulu. But despite heavy pressure from the government, he refused to declare it independent, saying he would not do so while Mandela and others remained in prison.

That made a difference. If the homeland of the Zulus had called itself a country, it would not have been so easy for the world to ignore the supposedly independent states.

At that time, then, Buthelezi was bad news to the government. But anti-apartheid groups also began to criticize him, for playing a role "in the apartheid system."

Then came a psychological turning point: the funeral, in 1978, of a great black leader, Robert Sobukwe. Buthelezi was on the speakers' platform in a packed stadium. When the young men in the cortege caught sight of him, they shouted and approached menacingly until he fled.

That episode brought out a paranoid streak that has flourished since in Buthelezi. A reporter who asks him the blandest of questions may find himself attacked at length as part of an anti-Buthelezi conspiracy. He sees insults everywhere. In a world with many thin-skinned politicians, his vanity is among the most tender.

The Guinness Book of World Records credits him with the world's longest speech: 400 pages delivered over five days to the KwaZulu legislative assembly. …

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