Special to the JTA South African Zulu Chief is Ardent Supporter of Israel
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Special to the JTA South African Zulu Chief is Ardent Supporter of Israel

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The man who could well emerge as South Africa’s first Black President is an outspoken supporter of Israel.

“Israel is indeed a land of miracles,” enthusiastically declared Chief Mongosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, who claims the support of South Africa’s largest ethnic group, the six million Zulus, whose ancestors fought the British in the 19th century. “It is miraculous to see what Israel has achieved in 38 years in the face of great adversities and hostilities.”

Regarded by more radical Blacks as an apologist for apartheid by liberal whites as an authentic voice for compromise, and by the South African government itself as a responsible, but annoyingly independent champion of Black power and pride, Buthelezi has led the proud Zulus for 30 years. He is chief minister of his tribe’s important Buthelezi clan, and head of Inkatha, a militant cultural-political organization that boasts a paid-up membership of a million.

Inkatha activists wear military-style uniforms, attend demonstrations armed with spears, clubs and shields, and have engaged in several, well publicized bloody clashes with followers of the outlawed African National Congress (ANC), an organization committed to the violent overthrow of white rule in South Africa.


In sharp contrast to Buthelezi’s Inkatha movement, the ANC, which admits to Soviet backing, has adopted a generally anti-Western and specifically anti-Israeli line. South African officials attribute the ANC’s position on Israel to support that the underground group has reportedly received from the Palestine Liberation Organization and Libya.

According to both South African and Israeli experts on international terrorism, the PLO and the Libyans have more radical, Pan African Congress with arms, money and military training and logistical support for over five years.

“I would say that Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi is today part of the ANC,” Buthelezi said during the course of a lengthy interview conducted at his ministerial headquarters in Ulundi, capital of Kwazulu. “The ANC describes itself as anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic, like many African groups. But anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are one and the same thing, I have always found.

“Anti-Zionism, equating Zionism with racism–all this is really a cover for anti-Semitism. It’s an abhorrent, abominable thing.”


An articulate, urbane leader, who advocates power sharing for South African Blacks, instead of revolution, and remains committed to non-violent change–for practical as well as moral reasons–Buthelezi makes no secret of his admiration for Israel and his view of the country as a model for other developing nations.

“I am deeply inspired by what I saw in Israel,” he said, referring to his visit there last year. “I returned home with increased hope and a realization that people facing adversity can become ingenious beyond all prediction. In addition, visiting Israel for me, my wife and those who accompanied us was a very special spiritual experience for us as Christians.”

He said that he was moved in particular by his visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, adding that as a result of the visit and his reading of the history of the Holocaust he is especially sensitive to the newly-risen strength of the neo-Nazi AWB, an Afrikaner extremist group that sports brown-shirted uniforms and waves swastika-like banners.

“They really cause my flesh to crawl because I say, ‘God help us if we’re going to have a repeat performance of that kind of racism which cost the world so many lives’, ” Buthelezi said.

Buthelezi is quick to take issue with Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, who recently likened apartheid to the Nazis’ genocidal program. “One can hardly say apartheid is the same as Nazism,” the Zulu chief said. “I mean, apartheid is based on a racist premise and bad enough, but it’s hardly murderous.”

He pointed out that while the Nazis sought to exterminate the Jews, South African policy seems bent on preserving its Black majority, but as second class, or subservient, citizens.


“I believe as you do in the God of Abraham,” Buthelezi declared, ” and I believe that we are all creatures of His creation. The Jewish people may not be in a position to know the extent to which the Black people identify their situation in South Africa with that of the Israelites in biblical Egypt, the land of bondage. We often hear Blacks ask, ‘When are we going to get out of Egypt?’ “

Buthelezi’s friendship for Israel is music to the ears of many South African Jewish leaders, who have grown increasingly concerned over the prospects of an ultimate ANC victory and the establishment of a pro-Soviet regime. Zionist Federation chairman Mocke Friedman has said that the Zulu leader “illustrates statesmanship, peaceful change, conciliation, the rejection of violence and discrimination.”

“Buthelezi is a moderate with millions of followers, and as such, he holds one of the keys to a long-term political solution of South Africa’s problems,” says the president of both the South African Board of Jewish Deputies and South African B’nai B’rith, Dr. I. Abramowitz. “His problem is that he’s seen as sending signals out to whites that he is prepared for gradual change. That is not acceptable to many Blacks in the climate we face today.”


Buthelezi’s pro-Israeli stance seems rooted in his positive impression of South African Jews. He explained that as a young man, he admired the Jews at Adams College who belonged to the progressive Institute of Race Relations. He was a guest in the home of veteran civil rights crusader and opposition parliamentarian Helen Suzman, and later frequented the home of Arnold Zulman, in nearby Durban.

“Zulman remains one of my closest friends even now, ” Buthelezi said. “His house was like my home because I could not stay in a hotel, and he opened the doors of his house to me. I remember that he received a telephone threat from some whites at that time, more than 10 years ago, threatening him because he was my friend.”

The Zulu leader recalled attending “shul in Durban many times. When I stayed with the Zulmans I went to shul, and also attended the Bar Mitzvas of their children. ” When Buthelezi’s mother died last year, Zulman took part in her funeral. Buthelezi said it touched him deeply.

Today, Buthelezi’s closest Jewish confidant is Rowley Arenstein, 68, who holds the distinction of having been the first radical attorney banned by the Nationalist-led government after it came to power nearly four decades ago.

No longer a practicing lawyer, Arenstein is a frequent visitor to Buthelezi’s Ulundi headquarters. “No white person in Durban is as concerned with our cause generally as well as in practice as he is,” Buthelezi said.

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