King Goodwill Zwelithini told hundreds of amakhosi loyal to him on Thursday that he had received several calls from people urging him to declare war against 11 chiefs wanting to be declared kings with the same status as himself.

Fuming amakhosi and senior royal house members, including the king and Zulu traditional Prime Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, gathered at the king's office in Nongoma to discuss the threat posed to the unity of the Zulu kingdom.

The meeting was convened after it had emerged that the chiefs had applied to the Nhlapho Commission to be declared kings.

In his address to the tense meeting, the king said he had received calls from his subjects urging him to let them "have a go" at those who were undermining the Zulu kingdom.

Appointed by President Thabo Mbeki, the Nhlapo Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims is holding hearings into the legitimacy of tribes and claims for traditional leadership.

The king said he was shocked that even those of his blood such as Prince Melizwe Dlamini of Nhlangwini, on the South Coast, also wanted to be kings. Dlamini is a blood relative of the Zulu royal house as his grandmother is a Zulu princes.

A number of ideas were expressed on how to deal with the matter, with senior Prince Reggie suggesting that the king and the Zulu nation should "visit" these applicants in Bergville and in Nhlangwini.

"All these people will run for their lives when we arrive there," he said.

Prince Thulani of Zibindini urged the provincial government to intervene and tighten the laws governing who could be the king.

"The provincial government should pass laws outlawing and declaring it treasonable for rebels to claim they are kings. Those who make illegitimate claims should be arrested and sent to jail," he said.

Much anger was expressed, with people saying the Zulu kingdom had been built through wars and no one could just claim to be a king.

"There is no other royal house in KwaZulu, except this one," said Inkosi Velemandleni Biyela.

Former Social Welfare MEC Nyanga Ngubane said it was a threat.

"The problem with the commission is that once it has made its decision on the matter, including deciding that the claimants are indeed kings, its decision would be final. I suggest we appoint a team of wise men to go and meet President Thabo Mbeki to discuss this issue before the commission even meets," he suggested.

Finance and Economic Affairs MEC Zweli Mkhize, who is the acting premier while Premier S'bu Ndebele is away on a official trip to Japan, also addressed the meeting to allay fears that the provincial government was involved in a plot to undermine the Zulu kingdom.

"Laws that we have passed protect the rights of and recognise the king . . . in as far as I know, we are not about to change that legislation," said Mkhize.

Buthelezi informed the meeting that he had been approached by representatives of one of the people claiming to be king, who called himself King Langalibalele II of AmaHlubi tribe.

He said the leaders of AmaHlubi wanted to meet him to discuss their claim.

"But as can be seen from this stationery (letterhead) they already designate Inkosi Muziwenkosi Johanness Hadebe as King Langalibalele II even while we are still going to make further representations to the commission about their claims.

"So, whichever way you look at it, there is a serious problem concerning the existence or non-existence of the kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal so called," said Buthelezi.

The list of those claiming the kingship include M J Radebe of the AmaHlubi tribe, M A Hlongwane (AmaNgwane tribe), S D Mngomezulu (Mngomezulu tribe), M Mngomezulu (also Mngomezulu tribe), M J Tembe (AmaThonga tribe), M Z Dlamini (Nhlangwini clan), M S Ndwandwe ( AbaNguni tribe), M Miya (AmaZizi tribe), V A Madlala (Madlala tribe), D E Msomi (Msomi tribe) and M A Mavuso (AmaNgwane tribe).