JOHANNESBURG, OCT. 2 -- Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi today rejected an invitation to meet Friday with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, dashing hopes for a reconciliation between the two black factions involved in the recent political violence here.
His decision means that the prospects for renewed conflict remain great, although the government two weeks ago imposed stiff security measures, including a nighttime curfew, on the townships where the fighting was concentrated. These have at least temporarily halted the intense strife in which more than 750 people have died.
A statement issued by the ANC expressed "sincere regret" that Buthelezi had decided not to attend a meeting of leaders from South Africa's six nominally self-governing homelands that Mandela has called to discuss ways to end the violence.
In Geneva, where he is attending a conference on southern Africa, Buthelezi said he had turned down the invitation because he felt the meeting, as it was being arranged, "is not the kind of meeting that can contribute to defusing violence."
Buthelezi had said 10 days ago that he would go only if he was convinced the ANC's intentions were "genuine" and that he wanted to be sure first that the invitation was not part of a strategy "to deny me my prime political identity as president of the Inkatha Freedom Party." Buthelezi, who is seeking recognition as Mandela's political equal, had indicated earlier that he was miffed because he was being invited as chief minister of the Kwazulu homeland rather than as leader of his Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.
Today's ANC statement referred to Buthelezi as both president of the Inkatha Freedom Party and Kwazulu's chief minister. It said Mandela still planned to meet with the five other homeland leaders because "we are convinced that the peace initiative the ANC has embarked upon . . . is vital for the future stability of our country." It said, "We will do everything possible to see that this process continues."
Buthelezi's refusal to accept the ANC's proposed forum for a meeting with Mandela leaves unresolved the question of how the ANC and Inkatha are going to avoid more bloodshed.
Senior ANC and Inkatha officials have been holding exploratory talks in Durban and even arranged some local peace agreements. But without an understanding being reached between the two leaders, there appears little likelihood of a lasting peace.
Mandela plans to campaign in Buthelezi's "territory" this weekend. His presence could stir up renewed fighting in Natal province, which has been relatively calm during recent violence in townships around Johannesburg.
Special correspondent John Parry in Geneva contributed to this article.