IN the final years of apartheid South Africa, Mangosuthu Buthelezi sought to emphasise his role as leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, rather than as leader of the Zulus. Whatever his shortcomings, Mr Buthelezi can do his sums, and realised that the leader of a minority tribe - albeit a huge one - was unlikely to win power in a national election. Whither Mr Buthelezi now that Inkatha has been marginalised as a political force and Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has stripped him of his role as traditional prime minister of the tribe's nine million members. It would be unwise to write off Mr Buthelezi. His political position, established as a black leader who co-operated with the apartheid authorities, appeared weak when Nelson Mandela was freed from jail in February 1990. An estimated 15,000 deaths in factional fighting between Zulus and the dominant Xhosa tribe of Mr Mandela helped shore up Mr Buthelezi's political position. Mr Buthelezi never publicly supported such violence, of course, but has never been slow to warn of the anger of the Zulus. Just this week he warned against moves that might 'inflame anger against the king'. In such circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that the king should have said he now believes his own life is in danger. Mr Mandela set an example for South Africans, and for oppressed people around the world, when he emerged from jail, apparently without bitterness, to talk to the people who had put him there for 27 years. Mr Buthelezi, by contrast, enjoyed a comfortable and influential position under apartheid, and is now home affairs minister. Mr Mandela works according to the late President Lyndon Johnson's principle that it's better to have an opponent inside your tent than out. But many South Africans will hope the time is approaching when it will be safe to send Mr Buthelezi into the wilderness.