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The Zulu king, trying to distance his monarchy from a deadly rivalry with the ANC, Tuesday severed his ties with the Zulu nationalist leader.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, has been the dominant force in Zulu politics for four decades, while his distant cousin, King Goodwill Zwelithini, has been a minor player.Nevertheless, the king's decision to cut ties with Buthelezi is likely to weaken the Inkatha leader and could touch off more bloody battles between Buthelezi's followers and Zulus who support the ANC if the king is perceived to be switching allegiances. The rivalry between the ANC and Inkatha has killed more than 10,000 people in five years.

Relations between the king and Buthelezi have soured over Buth- elezi's use of the crown as a rallying point for Zulu nationalism.

The final rupture came Monday after about 100 Inkatha youths jeered President Nelson Mandela during a visit to the king's palace and threw stones at the palace and Mandela's helicopter.

Mandela's visit was to discuss an invitation from the king to attend Shaka Day celebrations this weekend. Buthelezi had complained he wasn't consulted about the invitation and maintained Zulus would be angry if Mandela attended.

"I am insulted that my palace has been stoned, vulgar language has been used, the state president has been insulted and my property has been destroyed," Zwelithini was overheard telling members of the royal family Monday night.

Early Tuesday, he issued announcements severing all ties with Buthelezi and canceling Shaka Day celebrations.

Mandela told reporters Tuesday that he was not alarmed by the king's actions.

Buthelezi said the king had not directly informed him of his decision and dismissed the reports as "rumors." But if the reports were confirmed, he said, they "will inflame feelings of anger. People are already angry."

Buthelezi indicated his followers would go ahead with Shaka Day celebrations.

Instead of the pageantry that has marked Shaka Day for decades on Sept. 24, the king's announcement instructed Zulus to observe a "solemn period of prayer for unity, reconciliation and peace" this year.

Shaka Day has more often been a celebration of Zulu militancy. King Shaka was a brilliant military leader who led a devastating assault on smaller tribes in the early 1800s and is credited with founding the modern Zulu monarchy.