On this spot 99 years ago British troops finally subdued the Kwazulu nation by defeating their king, Cetshwayo, and killing more than 1,000 Zulu warriors in the battle of Ulundi.

Today, from this mountain redoubt about 50 miles inland from the Indian Ocean, Cetshwayo's great grandson, Mntwana Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, rules more than 5 million descendants of those defeated Zulus.

Gatsha Buthelez who is now visiting Washington, is a chief on the rise, and although a center of controversy, he is a major force in black South African politics.

Buthelez is scorned and castigated by many blacks for holding government-created post of chief minister of the Kwazulu "homeland," but he is acclaimed by many others as a fighter for their liberation and for the dismemberment of apartheid, the government's racial segregation policy.

Afrikaners, the whites of Dutch descent, say Buthelezi proves that dissenters against government policy are tolerated. They also fear him as head of a people outnumbering the Afrikaners 2 to 1.

The Kwazulu chief is belittled for favoring continued foreign investment and non violence against gaining black advocacy of disinvestment and violence. He is also the most widely known black leader within South Africa and presides over the country's largest black political organization known as Inkhata.

Disinvestment, Buthelezi believes, would "result in tens of thousands of people going hungry, permanently hungry," and would not cause the white minority government to make any significant changes in policy. Instead of urging disinvestment, Inkhata plans to monitor the performance of foreign companies to see whether they are complying with their announced employment practice codes.

Buthelezi remains committed to nonviolece, although he admits that this stance provokes reactions ranging "from skepticism to derision." And he has warned that the drive for peaceful change is in its "eleventh hour," and that if the government's policies force him into "the politics of confrontations," he will not run away from it.

Buthlelzi has been dubbed a "tribal moderinist" who provides a link between two trends in black South African politics - one that is tribally based and the other, loosely called "modernists," that shuns tribal politics and is best represented in the two banned liberation movements, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-Africanist Congress, (PAC).

Buthelezi was raised with the knowledge that he would one day be a chief and is adept at Kwazulu tribal politics. He also has been influenced by the National Congress however and speaks the language of black liberation, saying he still subscribes to its original manifesto.He meets leaders of both banned groups when he goes aboard.

During the urban unrest in 1976-77, the chief was overshadowed by urban leaders and students of a "modernist" bent, but after the protest was crushed, Buthelezi's influence grew.

Buthelezi, 50, was born near the village of Nongoma in Zululand, and attended the black university of Fort Hare at a time when the African National Congress Youth League was at a peak. He was active in the League and was expelled from the university for his involvement in a student boycott of a visiting white government official.

In 1972, when Pretoria gave Kwazulu self-government - the step before "indefendence" under its policy of separate development or apartheid - Buthelezi became chief minister and thus was identified as a "homeland" leader. Separate development aims to create nine independent blank homelands for South African's 18 million blacks so that eventually "there will be no black South Africans." Blacks oppose this policy because it deprives them of their South African citizenship, making them citizens of the ministates instead.

Buthelezi says he took the job in order to work against independence for Kwazulu. In the Kwazulu elections in February he ran on a "no-independence" ticket and won by a landslide.

As chief minister, Buthelezi has numerous privileges, including a large house where he lives with his wife and seven children, government cars and a monthly salary, and he also is immunized from Pretoria's wrath because he holds a position the government designed. Buthelezi gets away with anti-government remarks that other leaders are arrested for.

This protection is what causes Buthelezi the most trouble with his critics.

"Our greatest criticism is that he's protected from suffering and harassment" that other leaders endure, said one black minister. "Being exposed to police harassment and detention is a necessary criterion for being a credible black leader in South Africa."

Urban black leaders, many of whom were university friends of Buthelezi, have urged him to leave the Kwazulu government position because he is giving the government's apartheid policy legitimacy be being there.

"There is a point where compromise becomes indistinguishable from collaboration," an editorial on Ruthelezi in the "African Communist" magazine said.

Others are suspicious that he will accept the independence Pretoria has in mind if the white government makes enough land concessions or discriminates against Zulus in housing and jobs in the urban areas.

The anti-Buthelezi feeling is strongest among the younger city dwellers. They displayed their sentiments at the funeral February of Robert Sobukwe, president of the banned Pan-Africanist Congress, when they hurled insults and then stones at Buthelezi, forcing him to leave the funeral in a stadium filled with thousands of people.

It was an unprecedented way to treat a Kwazulu chief and Buthelezi, who's extremely sensitive to criticism, was stung by the attack, calling the teenagers "thugs" and "hoodlums." Buthelezi still mentions this incident in speeches, blaming the Black Conciousness movement for it.

Buthelezi describes his approach as "constituency politics" and has incarnated it in his "Inkhata Yenkululeko Yesizwe," a cultural organization, long dormant, that Buthelei revived in 1974 as a "Zulu national cultural liberation movement."

Today it has 150,000 paid members, who make it the largest black political organization in South African history.

"A movement has to have structures; it has to have meeting places; it has to have agendas and above all, it has to have loyal members constituted into a task force," Buthelezi says. "To opt out of a structural framework is to opt out of the struggle for liberation."

"Gatsha has realized that the bulk of blacks in South Africa are illiterate blue collar workers and this is the constituency he is going for," said one political observer.

Inkhata's aim, according to Buthelezi, is to develop a "meaningful strategy," which he believes will be some kind of sustained mass action like a work stoppage.

"A work stay-away, is our major weapon, but it must be more than a few days," he said.

"Strikes have failed in the past because half-baked plans have been presented to the people . . . To succeed, the people must be politicized enough and prepared for the trauma of losing their jobs."

For the movement, however, Inkhata does not have concrete plans for such a work stoppage and clearly this weapon is far from ready to be used.

Buthelezi defends Inkhata's ethnic basis, saying he believes it is the only "realistic" way to proceed in South African politics in light of the historical fears and prejudices that exist among the black tribal groups as well as between them and the coloreds (mixed race) and Indians. Animosity is particularly fierce between South Africa's 750,000 Indians and the Zulus in the province of Natal, where most Indians live and where Kwazulu is.

"The ideal thing is to recruit members on a multiracial basis," Buthelezi says, "but it won't work. Only a set of alliances between ourselves and other groups will work and be relevant in the long run. If we don't do it, we can only look forward to civil war among blacks. We must start building bridges."

Inkhata recently formed a political alliance with parties representing large sections of the colored and Indian populations. The grouping, called the South African Black Alliance, has called for a national conference to write a constitution acceptable to all South Africans, and it has set up a committee to look at models.

"Everyone condemns the Nats [followers of the ruling all-white National Party] but no one gives them alternatives," Buthelezi said.

Appeals for a conference have fallen on deaf ears before and Buthelezi admits that one is not likely except as "a byproduct of bullets and power."

Formation of the Black Alliance has caused some anxiety in Pretoria as confirmation of fears that Buthelezi might try to expand his influence outside his Zulu constituency. In their propaganda against the alliance, the government-controlled broadcasting service and the Afrikans press have played on other groups' fears of "Zulu domination."

The phenomenal growth of Inkhata is also a cause for concern. Buthelezi has so shrewdly married his Inkhata to the Kwazulu homeland government that banning the political organization would essentially be banning the government, a Pretorio creation in the first place. Buthelezi has thus reinforced his immunity as Kwazulu chief minister with the protection that comes from having a powerful organization behind him.

"I know that the prime minister shares the fears that I have that if something rash is done to Inkhata, Natal will burn," Buthelezi said recently.

That he said that with impunity is evidence of Inkhata's power.