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South Africa:
A Looming Threat

The KwaZulu-Natal region remains a serious threat to the cohesion of the new South Africa. The violence which characterised the last ten years of apartheid remains unresolved and the situation, as volatile as ever, despite a lull following last year's elections. The international NGO, Human Rights Watch/Africa has expressed particular concern that the continuing conflict in this region "may prevent the establishment of democratic local government structures" in elections to be held in November.

The conflict in KwaZulu-Natal is the continuation of that between the ANC and the Buthelezi-led Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the former "homeland" of KwaZulu. The new region - KwaZulu-Natal - is an amalgamation of KwaZulu and the former white province of Natal, following the scrapping of the homelands, brought about by the demise of apartheid.

In August 1993, the Inkatha Freedom Party, which had political control of KwaZulu boycotted the election campaign (together with the governments of Ciskei, Boputhatswana and extreme right-wing white groups). Their main grouse was that the pre-election negotiations were moving South Africa towards centralisation. They wanted a federal system of government under which the provinces would have more power. This was the IFP's strategy to retain political control of KwaZulu in the face of a government that would obviously be ANC controlled. If it capitulated to demands for centralisation, it would lose control of its power base to an ANC controlled central government.

As it transpired, the IFP later decided to rejoin the election after violence which claimed 429 lives in 4 weeks in the KwaZulu and Natal regions. The IFP eventually won 50.3% of the vote in the region while the ANC won 32.2%, the National party, 11.2% and the Democratic party, 2.2%. This translated into 40 seats for the IFP and 26 for the ANC - significantly, one short of the one-third veto in the house. The election results in the region have however been questioned as the election was characterised by large-scale malpractices carried out mainly by the IFP. On the one hand, extensive violence and intimidation prevented free political activity in the region before the election, while on the other, fraud, intimidation and logistical disruption marred the polling and counting days.

In many parts of South Africa, during the election, there were a small number of no-go areas where it was not possible for one or more parties to campaign freely, but according a report by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which oversaw the elections, KwaZulu-Natal was the worst area, containing more than 79 no-go areas, affecting more than 6 million potential voters.

To illustrate the difficulty faced by parties trying to muscle into areas from which they were "barred", on February 18, last year, 15 ANC youths were killed in the village of Mahlele in the Southern Natal Midlands. They had been sleeping in a derelict house after putting up posters advertising a voter education workshop, when they were attacked.

The dirty tricks employed by the IFP took many less overt forms. On two consecutive Sundays in March preceding the election, their supporters occupied the stadiums of the townships of Umlazi and KwaMashu in order to prevent ANC rallies. On Saturday march 13, the ANC eventually settled for a rally on the highway. A resulting clash with the IFP supporters trying to prevent the rally led to 3 deaths. The IEC fined the IFP $27,5000 for the occupation of the stadiums.

In April 12, 8 employees of a non-partisan private company - Natal Pamphlet Distributors - employed by the IEC to distribute pamphlets explaining the voting procedures were killed in Ndwedwe, north of Durban. 11 of the employees were allegedly forced to a gorge by the local Chief who accused them of being ANC supporters. Here, they were assaulted, and eight of them were shot and hacked to death. Three others managed to escape to narrate their ordeal. The IFP controlled KwaZulu police failed to come to the men's assistance despite being alerted by the driver of the company. Four men have been charged with murder in connection with the incident and are awaiting trial.

Again, on April 23, 3 ANC activists were killed in Ulundi, the Capital of KwaZulu homeland. They were part of a group of ten ANC canvassers accompanied by IEC monitors who travelled to the town following the announcement by Buthelezi that the election would go ahead in KwaZulu. The men were there to carry out the first ever open campaign for the ANC in the area. As they began distributing leaflets, they were surrounded by a crowd. Shots were fired and two ANC supporters were hit. One was killed immediately. The other was beaten to death while the third was burnt in his car. The KwaZulu police did not stop the attack and were even said to have actively participated in the killing. These were some of the main incidents of intimidation in the region, of which, the IEC admits, the ANC was not entirely innocent but the IFP were by far the chief perpetrators.

The election in KwaZulu and Natal itself was riddled with so many irregularities and blatant cheating that it was obvious that the results were not a true representation of the choice of the voters. The conclusion of a report compiled by the Empangeni sub-province of the IEC is instructive of the situation: "In the light of the information that we have received and the fact that ballot papers cannot be accounted for by the Electoral Administration Department, together with the gross irregularities that have surfaced, I suggest that the commission seriously considers declaring this election null and void in the interest of stability in this region."

The document listed 20 types of complaint about the conduct of the election, amongst them: interference with voters, intimidation, unguarded ballot boxes, canvassing at polling stations, pirate voting stations, violence at the counting stations, missing ballot papers, and ballot boxes not sealed properly. Despite these irregularities, the ANC decided not to challenge the results so as not to provoke further violence in the area.

Since the election, the struggle for control of the region has continued through the instruments of state, with the ANC trying to gain control by integrating KwaZulu-Natal into a larger centralised government and the IFP resisting by fighting for more regional autonomy. The IFP has so far managed to retain many of the structures and officials of the KwaZulu homeland. The ANC is however bent on changing this. This conflict led the IFP to pull out of the constituent assembly on April 8. They complain about the reneging of the ANC on its promise to take this issue of regional autonomy to an international mediation body. Despite its pre-election promise to do so, the ANC argues that this is no longer necessary because the issue can now be resolved within South Africa by its constituent assembly.

The struggle between the two parties for the region has however taken on a new twist with the surprising crossover of the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini from the IFP to the ANC. In the run up to the election, one of the concessions that the IFP asked for was recognition of the status of the king of KwaZulu in the new constitution. The then president, De Klerk acceded and in a secret act - the Ingonyama Trust Act - a trust was established under the sole control of the Zulu King or the Ingonyama, into which was transferred ownership of all land previously held by the KwaZulu government. This prevented the government at national and regional level from having control over what was once government land. However, this concession had the effect of freeing the king from the financial control of the IFP-dominated KwaZulu administration. The relationship between the king and Buthelezi had become strained as the latter's ambition was to reduce Zwelithini to a mere figurehead. The king began to dispute the legitimacy of Buthelezi's post as the "Prime Minister to the King of Zululand", He argued that the post never existed traditionally and was only created by Buthelezi. Buthelezi argued that the post had been held by his family for generations.

With Zwelithini freed from the financial hold of the IFP, the gulf between the king and Buthelezi widened and the king began to lean towards the ANC. His shift to the ANC culminated in his appointment as chief adviser of Chief Israel Mowayizeni, a senior member of the royal family, an ANC member of the new national assembly and member of the ANC's National Executive Committee.

With the current deadlock between the ANC and Inkatha unlikely to be resolved before the local elections slated for November 1 this year, Human Rights Watch/Africa has warned that like in the weeks leading to last year's presidential election, the run up to the election and the election itself could be characterised by violence. It supports the National Commission on Truth and

Reconciliation set up by the government to investigate and record past violations of human rights but opposes the concession to grant indemnity to those found guilty. The organisation recognises that the conflict in KwaZulu-Natal, if not settled on time, could lead to a breakdown of the government of national unity. It however disagrees with the ANC's decision not to challenge the results of the presidential election in the region, arguing that the

government is under an obligation to ensure that this decision was not made at the expense of the right of the residents of the region to democratically elect their leaders.

The Full report entitled, South Africa: Threats to a New Democracy is available from Human Rights Watch /Africa @ $5.00
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