Controlling the police, the legislature, the courts and other levers of power, he repressed anti-apartheid groups with policies critics said were remarkably like those of Pretoria: ordering arrests, disrupting protests, dispensing patronage and denying jobs to dissenters. Many Black intellectuals and activists fled KwaZulu, the collection of 40 tribal homelands scattered across the former Natal Province on South Africa’s southeast salient. (After apartheid, KwaZulu became KwaZulu-Natal Province.)

Moreover, historians said, Mr. Buthelezi controlled Inkatha paramilitary fighters whose internecine clashes with African National Congress militants claimed up to 20,000 lives in the late 1980s and ’90s. Besides financing the KwaZulu government, Pretoria admitted in 1991 that it had covertly subsidized Inkatha in its war with the A.N.C., reinforcing allegations that Mr. Buthelezi had collaborated with the white government.

“Depending on whom you talk to in South Africa, he is a tool of apartheid, a courageous opponent of white domination, a tribal warlord or a visionary proponent of democratic capitalism,” Michael Clough said in a New York Times review of Mr. Buthelezi’s book, “South Africa: My Vision of the Future” (1990), adding, “While he speaks eloquently of the need for nonviolence, his followers have been accused of murdering hundreds of their opponents in Natal Province.”

In 1990, when South Africa signaled its willingness to disband apartheid by freeing Mr. Mandela and lifting a 30-year ban on the A.N.C., Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela became the principal negotiators for a new constitution. But Mr. Buthelezi quickly inserted himself into the bargaining as a voice for capitalism, education, tribal and ethnic rights, and powers for regional governments.

Over the next few years, as debates at the table flared and factional fighting worsened, Mr. Buthelezi often boycotted the talks. But apartheid ended in hospitals, theaters, swimming pools, parks, libraries and public transportation. And a new constitution emerged, creating a parliamentary democracy with executive, legislative and judicial branches, a Bill of Rights, a universal franchise and 10 regional governments.

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