The Chief

Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi
Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi; drawing by David Levine

In mid-November, Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi arrived in the United States for a three-week visit. It was the most recent of more than a dozen trips here for Buthelezi, who is chief minister of the KwaZulu homeland, president of the Inkatha political organization, and leader of South Africa’s six million Zulus. He spoke to a Baptist congregation in Orlando, Florida, appeared on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club in Richmond, Virginia, and received an honorary law degree from Boston University. In Washington, Buthelezi met with the editorial board of the Post and attended a working dinner at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Most important of all, he had a half-hour meeting with President Reagan, as well as separate conversations with George Bush and George Shultz. Malcolm Baldridge at Commerce wanted to see him, too, but Buthelezi couldn’t fit him in.

At a meeting of the Foreign Policy Association three hundred people showed up at the New York Helmsley Hotel to hear Buthelezi talk about “The Survival of Diplomacy in Conflict.” Dressed in an elegant business suit, he did not seem entirely at ease. He read from a prepared text studded with high-minded phrases like “foreign policy responsibilities” and “framework of cooperation.” The message itself was rather bland, asserting opposition to “uncontrolled violence” and support for peaceful change. Reading hurriedly, the chief seemed in a rush to get through.

The fifty-eight-year-old Buthelezi is known as an engaging, jocular man—until he is aroused, when he can become quite sharp. And, as he answered questions after his talk, his manner changed. He lashed out at Desmond Tutu (“He’s not elected by anybody”), Oliver Tambo (“I don’t see how he thinks Inkatha can be wished away”), and the United Democratic Front (“It’s not an organization like Inkatha is—structured, with a constitution”). When it came to discussing his ideas about the future, the Zulu chief spoke eloquently about the American Dream and the Bill of Rights. He wanted both for South Africa. “You can’t have a democracy without freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of association,” he declared. “I want a government of law and a multiparty system.” It was an eloquent performance, and the applause was thunderous.

For Americans who want to find a pro-Western alternative to the African National Congress, Buthelezi seems tailor-made. John Silber, president of Boston University, recently wrote that the United States should “support the claims of proved democratic opponents of apartheid, such as Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi.” And a recent New York Times editorial had this to say:

Chief Buthelezi is unfairly caricatured by black militants as an Uncle Tom. The truth is more interesting. He has repeatedly called for the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela, jailed leader of the African National Congress. Though the chief preaches moderation, he has scorned attempts to draw him away from Mr. Mandela into talks with Pretoria on a “new dispensation” meant to prolong…

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