The much-heralded meeting of State President PW Botha and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi this week saw no thaw in relations between them – but it will be remembered as a day when the KwaZulu chief minister lost his temper with the media. All eyes were on the two men, their every gesture and their body language as they shared a platform for the official opening of the new KwaZulu-Natal Joint Executive Authority in Durban. It was only their fifth known meeting in nine years and there was much speculation about whether it would mark the start of an improvement in their relations.
However, there was no evidence of any warming between the two, although each had limited – almost faint – praise for the other during their speeches. Botha said the JEA was a "much needed reflection of a socio-economic fact namely the interdependence of KwaZulu and Natal". He added that government in the region had-a good record of "negotiation, cooperation and mutual assistance", and that this was largely the result of the "leadership styles" of Buthelezi and the administrator of Natal, Radclyffe Cadman.
Buthelezi in turn said he recognised Botha as the head of state who had done "more than any other head of state at least to point this country in the direction of reform". He said Botha had "turned (his) face towards statesmanship" and under his hand there was now some prospect of a peaceful solution to South Africa's problems. However. departing from his prepared speech, Buthelezi said he was concerned about "white South Africa" when they could not meet "even halfway" with a Ieader like himself who had been "sentenced to death" because of his commitment to non-violence and negotiations.
He also called on Botha to re-examine the annual celebration of December 16, the day on which the Zulu forces were defeated by the Boers. He said next year was the 15th anniversary of the Battle of Blood River and he felt by that time "there should be a new covenant between us". There was no response from Botha to these remarks, and he remained stoney-faced at a call by the KwaZulu chief minister that he speed up the process of reform. He also appeared unmoved at comments by Buthelezi that although there was "no animosity" between the two of them, they had nothing to discuss".
At a news conference after the official opening, Buthelezi, obviously irritated with questions from media representatives, said he had not had "talks" with Botha over tea. He added they had not met recently as "there is not any point in seeing him at the moment; there is nothing to discuss. Asked a number of questions about the violence in Pietermaritzburg townships, he became increasingly angry. He said it was impossible for him to control all one million members of Inkatha, adding, "You cannot expect me to know what is going on in the hearts and minds of each member, especially where people are trying to intimidate Inkatha".
Buthelezi exploded, saying "Bullshit" several times when asked about his and Inkatha's role in the Pietermaritzburg violence. He told a number of reporters they "ought to do their homework" before asking him questions, said another should "stop doodling" with the questions he was asking, and said it was "no business" of anyone else what he planned to say in a court case the next day. Responding to another question, Buthelezi said there were some journalists who "tried to do this kind of quizzing on behalf of my political enemies" and he lashed out at a reporter asking, "What kind of journalist are you?" before one of the journalists remarked to much laughter, "You are touchy today, chief".
This article appeared in the Weekly Mail.