DURBAN, South Africa -- The African National Congress flexed its political muscle yesterday with a display of strength in the middle of the territory claimed by its biggest rival for the black vote.
Drawn in part by Nelson Mandela, the ANC leader, and in part by promises of entertainment and traditional healers, about 60,000 people overflowed King's Park, a stadium that the weekend before had held a gathering of white South Africans drawn to a championship rugby game -- the closest thing this country has to the Super Bowl.
Durban is the capital city of Natal, the traditional home of the Zulus, the largest of South Africa's many indigenous tribes. Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, has blatantly appealed to Zulus' pride in their precolonial kingdom, asserting that Zulus would not be able to decide their own destiny under ANC rule.
But in July, a Zulu rally was barely able to fill this same stadium, and many of those present left after hearing the current Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, leaving many empty seats for Mr. Buthelezi's address.
Mr. Mandela's speech, delivered in Zulu and English, was essentially a history lesson that tried to show that the native tribes of South Africa had a legacy of unity.
"All of us gathered here represent the rich tapestry woven out of the diversity of colors, religions, traditions and customs which are part of our country," he said.
"We have come here to celebrate the diversity and the unity of our people. We have upheld this principle in the face of the most brutal efforts by colonial and apartheid rule to divide our people, to destroy our pride in ourselves and to foment racial hatred and ethnic conflict.
"The indigenous people of our country have always extended the hand of friendship to all who came into our midst," he said. "White supremacists have sought to obliterate this from our history, but they have never succeeded."
By the time Mr. Mandela began speaking, at 2 p.m., many had been in their seats for five hours. Although he got a deafening welcome when he came to the stage, some people began drifting out during his address.
It was obvious that many had come for the entertainment, provided by a variety of Zulu a cappella singing and dancing groups whose style is similar to that of the well-known Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a group that came to America's attention when it worked with Paul Simon.
All wanted to see and cheer Mr. Mandela; it's just that many clearly did not want to sit still for a lecture on history.
"I have told you of people in this province who want to distort history," Mr. Mandela said in a thinly veiled reference to Mr. Buthelezi's claim on the Zulu legacy.
"Those who want to find out how unreliable some of the people who are regarded as being major players in the country are should only just go to the history books.
"The threads that make up the weave of the tapestry cannot be separated without destroying the tapestry itself," Mr. Mandela said. "
"Inkatha -- it stands only for the Zulus," said Musa Ntembe, a 26-year-old from a township south of Durban who joined a group that moved onto the rugby field after all the seats in the stands were filled. "We are an organization that stands for black rule of South Africa.
"The ANC stands for the Xhosa,we stand for the Zulus, we stand for the black people."
The Zulu king, who is supposed to be above politics but is considered an ally of Mr. Buthelezi, did not attend yesterday. But the ANC was able to attract several local Zulu chiefs to what was billed as a cultural festival.
It was called Sonke, which means "all of us" in Zulu.
"It was the white people who divided us into tribes," said Nono Ncube, a Zulu from the Durban area who was sitting in the front row. "They came here and said, this is Xhosa, this is Ndebele, this is Zulu, when really we were all one.
"But the white people wanted to divide us to make it easier to rule," he said, indicating that Mr. Buthelezi was trying to continue that policy because he is being used by the white political authorities.