JOHANNESBURG, JAN. 17 -- After months of political wrangling and thousands of deaths in factional fighting, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi announced today that they will meet in a bid to end conflict among blacks.
Mandela and Buthelezi issued statements saying they would meet Jan. 29 in Durban, together with delegations from their respective parties, the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
It would be the first meeting between the two leaders since Mandela was released from prison last February and would represent a political victory for Buthelezi, who has been striving for recognition as the political equal of the ANC leader.
While the meeting is unlikely to end the fighting between their supporters, most analysts have foreseen no chance of halting it unless they did discuss their differences and call jointly for a cease-fire.
Buthelezi said he had received a telephone call from Mandela on Tuesday, during which the latter proposed the Jan. 29 date, and that he accepted it. He said their conversation was "as always warm and friendly" and he hoped the meeting would result in "the peace and unity so many desired."
Many ANC officials, particularly those from Buthelezi's stronghold in Natal, had opposed the meeting because they felt it would boost Buthelezi's national political legitimacy. They blocked Mandela's first attempt to meet him last April during a trip to Natal.
Buthelezi has refused to meet Mandela in any forum other than a one-on-one session or as leaders of delegations from their parties.
Last October, Buthelezi rejected an ANC invitation to meet Mandela along with five leaders from the other nominally self-governing South African black homelands, saying it was an attempt to deny him his special political identity as leader of a major political party.
The result was a deadlock -- over whether, how and when the two leaders should meet -- that has dragged on for more than 10 months.
Many outside observers say the delay has been a major contributing factor to factional fighting that caused hundreds of deaths last spring in Natal and 750 more in townships near here last summer and early fall.