I found the article by William Raspberry, "What Role for Buthelezi?" (op-ed, Dec. 10), quite interesting. Interesting because, having known Raspberry for quite a few years, I would not have expected anything positive about me or Inkatha or the Zulu nation except this kind of propaganda for Alan Boesak and the United Democratic Front.

Raspberry describes me as "proud." If he means I am proud of my language, Zulu, and of a Zulu culture and of Zulu history and of the stand the Zulu nation has taken against white domination in South Africa for more than 100 years, then I must confess that I am very proud. I get a lot of inspiration, too, from the fact that it was the Zulus who staged the last armed struggle in South Africa, in 1906. I am proud of my maternal grandfather, King Dinuzulu, exiled twice by British imperialists, and of the fact that it was my uncle, Dr. Pixley ka Isaka Seme, who founded the banned African National Congress in 1912, and that my grandfather, King Dinuzulu, was actually its first patron.

I am proud of having been a member of the African National Congress until it was banned, proud of having served under Chief Albert Luthuli with such men as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and other patriots as members of the ANC Youth League.

I am proud of the fact that Inkatha -- the national cultural liberation, which I founded in 1975 -- is structured in the ideals of the ANC as propounded by the founding fathers in 1912. Inkatha is not ethnic. The minister of justice, notorious for his famous saying that Steve Biko's death left him cold, summoned me to Pretoria on Sept. 19, 1977, to threaten taking action against Inkatha and me because it was not ethnic. He ordered me to take only Zulus as members. I defied him and told him I will take any African into Inkatha.

Oliver Tambo, Johny Makatini and other members of the ANC Youth League had relationships with me until 1980 -- after a meeting in London in October 1979, which I attended with 16 members of the Inkatha Central Committee. No one then accused me of what Dr. Boesak accuses me to Raspberry of doing -- practicing "ethno nationalism." My only sin was that Inkatha could not operate as the internal wing of the external wing of ANC led by Tambo. It was just not feasible by the nature of our differing strategies. Inkatha operates on the old strategy of the banned African National Congress of staging democratic opposition through nonviolent means. The external mission of ANC opted for violence. I have never blamed them for that, even if I disagree.

Boesak accuses me of getting money from the government. This is a gross insult to the African people and to the Zulu nation in particular. Zulus are taxpayers in South Africa, and apart from parliamentary rants into our budget, we have our own generated revenue amounting to millions of rands. No one accuses Democratic mayors of Los Angeles, Atlanta and other cities of being puppets of President Reagan because they get federal grants for their cities. Nor does this fact water down their opposition to the Reagan administration in any way.

Boesak is a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, a super-ethnic church. There is the DRC Mother Church for Whites, then there is the DRC-Sending Kerk for coloreds (those of mixed blood), under which Boesak serves. Then there is the N G Kerk in Afrika for Africans (black indigenes). He has no problem belonging to that church. He ministers to his people (the coloreds). He further ministers to them as chaplain at the ethnic University of the Western Cape, established and entirely financed by the Botha government.

Raspberry writes that he heard all these scurrilous accusations against me "from nonwhites from one end of this country to the other." He writes: "For the sake of perspective, I should make clear that I did not visit rural areas of Natal, where Buthelezi has the largest and most loyal following."

This is an amazing admission. First of all, Natal has the largest Asian population in South Africa -- about 800,000. Last November the South African Indian Academy bestowed on me the Nadaraja Award for what they described as my contribution to race relations in South Africa. Natal as a province has cities; Durban is the second largest city in South Africa, and most black townships in the greater Durban area fall under KwaZulu jurisdiction.

The use of "rural areas of Natal" by Raspberry is a common stance to downgrade my leadership as being only rural, as if blacks in rural areas are subhumans. My Soweto rallies are bigger than any rallies that have ever been held there by any black leader, and yet Raspberry writes of my leadership as confined to Natal.

South African whites are not the exclusive domain of the external mission of ANC and UDF. I am as entitled as both Tambo and Boesak to seek support from them -- as they are doing. I assume that the future of South Africa is black and white, and that whoever leads in any capacity in South Africa must have the support of people of all race groups.

Last, I wish to make the point that we Zulus regard it as a gross insult to be described by Raspberry, Boesak and Rev. Mangaliso Mkhatshwa as "a tribe." The Zulu people were a sovereign nation with a king until July 4, 1879, when they were crushed in a defeat by the might of the British army. They were, however, not annihilated. We are today 7 million souls and have King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu as our king.

The fact that as a nation we were conquered does not make us "a tribe." The Swazi nation has a population of half a million, it has a king, and it is represented at the United Nations today. The Lesotho nation, also a little over 2 million people, has a king and is represented at the United Nations. They are not described as "tribes" by anyone. The Zulu nation was the mightiest nation in the whole of southern Africa, with many nations accepting the suzerainty of the Zulu king.

"Tribe" to us is as derogatory as "kaffir" and "nigger," so please do not insult us by continuing to describe us as a "tribe." Our king lost one of his children in December 1985, and Oliver Tambo addressed a message to him as "king." King of a tribe? We are the only people in South Africa who should have clamored to be set up again as an independent nation under the government's plans of fragmenting South Africa into ethnic nations. We, as the largest ethnic group in South Africa, have rejected the homelands policy unequivocally.

It is a lot of poppycock for Raspberry to write that: "The consensus seems to be that at some point Buthelezi stopped toying with whites and started playing footsie with them." Can he be more specific as to what he means by that journalistic balderdash?

I am not involved in any negotiations with the South African government precisely because I do not claim any less for my people in a liberated South Africa. My strength is not only among Zulus. I am an obstacle to the success of the government's fragmentation policy precisely because in my own region I do not owe anything to whites or the South African government.

Whatever propaganda is being disseminated by my political opponents in the West, no solution can be found in South Africa without the input of the people I represent. I represent millions of black people and also some Asians, some coloreds and some whites. They will determine what becomes of me.