WASHINGTON -- After 17 years on the diplomatic sidelines, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger has agreed, along with Lord Carrington, the former British foreign secretary, to help mediate the dispute in South Africa between the African National Congress and Zulus who want an autonomous homeland.
Mr. Kissinger, who served as secretary of state and national security adviser under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, will fly to South Africa this week in what some experts call a long-shot effort to end the strife that threatens to undermine that country's first all-race elections from April 26 to April 28.
Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress, and Chief Mangosuthu G. Buthelezi, the Zulu leader, have invited Mr. Kissinger to mediate because they remember the role he played in the 1970s in helping bring peace and independence to Zimbabwe and Namibia.
"When you're an accomplished leader you want to deal with people who have proven themselves in many different areas," said Chester A. Crocker, the top African affairs specialist in President Ronald Reagan's administration. "There aren't many Henry Kissingers in the world."
Mr. Kissinger and Lord Carrington will lead an international team of seven mediators, several of whom are experts in constitutional law.
Among the major issues they will seek to resolve is the Zulus' demand for significant autonomy under the new South African constitution. At a minimum, the Zulus want the constitution to be amended to allow for a loose federal arrangement that provides autonomy for the KwaZulu black homeland in Natal province. Another issue is the status of the Zulu monarchy after the elections.
Mr. Kissinger, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his role in ending the Vietnam War, refused to comment yesterday on his decision to mediate.
"It's a very risky business," said Peter Krogh, dean of Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service. "If the mediation doesn't work, it can be followed by an escalation of violence. He can find himself blamed for something he was powerless to affect."
U.S. and British officials said that they were happy that private citizens were serving as mediators.