Velaphi Ndlovu, KwaZulu MP for the Pietermaritzburg area and regional chairman of Inkatha, believes if an Inkatha member is killed by a member of the United Democratic Front, it is acceptable to take revenge by killing relatives of the UDF member.
"It's defence," said Ndlovu in an interview on Sunday. "Because if there was no attacker there would be no revenge. "Revenge killing is not acceptable in the policy but what can you do if your house is burnt down and the law won't do anything about that? You revenge yourself so he won't come back again. Ndlovu said when Inkatha acted to "defend" itself, it used all kinds of weapons: "It can be the teeth – everything – as long as they are defending themselves, because life comes once, not twice."
A few hours later the sirens of ambulances could be heard in the distance as the brutal Inkatha-UDF war, in which more than 150 people have died this year, continued to take its nightly toll. Ndlovu was speaking after the local Inkatha committee met to discuss their remedy to the war: they want police stations handed over to the Inkatha-run KwaZulu government. Not far away, the "enemy" was meeting in a darkened and sparsely furnished church in newly-liberated "Angola" (to get there you go left at "Moscow"), a section of the Edendale valley, to form an area committee.
A youth activist opened the meeting by outlining the priorities of the community. These, he said, were defence committees to counter vigilante attacks; people's courts to discipline "comrades" who misbehave; and first aid committees to treat the battle-wounded. As he spoke, shafts of light illuminated the whites of the eyes of a row of delegates, none of whom could have been more than 12 years old.
Everyone – from the Chamber of Commerce to the warring factions – is talking about the need for a truce to stop the killing. But the factors which have turned Pietermaritzburg's black areas into a mini-Beirut go back more than two years and are deeply embedded in the politics of Natal. The August 1985 consumer boycotts in Pietermaritzburg – -partially spurred by the BTR Sarmcol dispute at Howick down the road – and the emergence of UDF -supporting youth congresses were regarded as politically threatening to Inkatha in an area where its support was not traditionally high.
According to Ndlovu's own figures, there are 53, functioning Inkatha branches in the area, with 40 to 100 people in each – a maximum of about 5 000 members out of more than half a million people in the area. The Congress of South African Trade Unions has warded off a challenge in the area, centred on bus drivers, from the Inkatha-linked United Workers' Union of South Africa. And although the June 1986 Emergency temporarily stunted the growth of the youth organisations, they have been regrouping strongly this year.
The current escalation of violence follows an Inkatha recruitment drive in Edendale which began in late July and August. Though the area is semi-rural with traditional chiefs still in place, much of Edendale falls outside KwaZulu and the proximity of a big city has loosened the tribal sway of the Inkatha-supporting chiefs. Siphiwe Khanyile, a fieldworker for the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa), said the trouble started when Inkatha began forcing people in Edendale to join them.
"It was a lot of money. People had to pay R5 if they were parents or R2 if they were students. The chiefs started in Harewood and moved systematically through the townships. People who didn't want to join were killed while others fled." As an example, Khanyile cited a church meeting in Mpumuza in early September, where a chief said everyone had to join Inkatha and "woe unto them" who did not. "The next Tuesday a mother, and her son who did not want to join Inkatha were killed."
Numerous residents told similar tales of conscription into the ranks of Inkatha, with bloody consequences for those who refused or were identified as UDF activists. It is understood that in many cases legal action is pending. Even during the floods the recruitment drive did not let up.
Mark Cornell, mayor of Pietermaritzburg, said: "If Inkatha had wanted to make friends, they should have gone and helped the people instead of going and saying to them at three o'clock in the morning – sign this card or I'll km you if you don't. "On the Monday night at the height of the floods, 13 people were killed.
Asked to comment on this yesterday, Dr Oscar Dhlomo, the Inkatha general secretary, said: "I don't think I need to give this respectability by responding to it. It is just the old story repeated without substantiation. "It is a waste of time and perpetuates this conflict to respond to such allegations. We don't want to rake up these things. It is in our interests to comment".
Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Inkatha president and KwaZulu chief minister, said Inkatha was a voluntary organisation. "The kind of coercion alleged here is strictly contrary to the dictates of the movement. Unfortunately, the allegations do not record specific examples which would enable us to conduct an immediate investigation. "Inkatha leadership would not tolerate such behaviour.
"The allegations are typical of the propaganda aimed against Inkatha. The facts are that various groups are killing each other and this must stop. Numerous members of Inkatha have been butchered by pro-UDF elements and yet a concerted effort is being made to cover this up. Inkatha has been involved in peace initiatives for a considerable time and has done whatever it can to stop the carnage. I find it interesting that little mention is made of the extreme difficulty experienced by Inkatha in getting the UDF to bring its leadership grouping to the peace initiative," he said.
Though the initial pressures came from Inkatha's recruitment drive, Peter Kerchhoff, Pacsa organiser, pointed out there had been tremendous retaliation against the organisation in the past months. The best-publicised case was the KwaShange shooting on September 16 in which 13 members of the Inkatha Youth Brigade aged between 14 and 22 were locked in a house which was set alight. As they fled they were attacked and killed. Three policemen were arrested in connection with the killings. Even the UDF does not deny that "a number of excesses" have been committed by members of the UDF-related defence committees patrolling the townships.
The UDF and Cosatu jointly issued pamphlets calling on their members to organise against the violence and not to retaliate against ordinary members of Inkatha. The two organisations are involved in a bid to highlight the situation in the area and there are to be meetings with a wide range of organisations in the next few days-to brief them on the violence. A UDF statement issued this week said that though the township violence had reached crisis proportions "we in the UDF do not feel that we are the aggressors or the main culprits. "In order to achieve an end to the violence, it is imperative that we be able to consult freely with our members and all the victims of vigilante violence. "This is made very difficult by the activities of Inkatha supporters and is also restricted by the State of Emergency".
The claims coming from both Inkatha and the UDF are in some ways strangely similar. Both claim the South African Ponce are siding with their enemies. Apart from the KwaShange massacre, a UDF youth activist said several black policemen living in the community had chosen to side with them because they too were victims of the recruitment campaigns. However, he said, the general trend was that in cases where UDF people were murdered by known Inkatha supporters, no action was taken.
Ndlovu said the Plessieslaer police station was "biased" against Inkatha because, he alleged, the police removed their weapons. "Inkatha members are on the defending side," he said. "Some of our members, if they are being attacked and come out to defend themselves, are arrested, while those who are doing the defending are left alone without their weapons. He denied that Inkatha was involved in a recruitment drive and blamed the conflict on the UDF. He said the UDF was disrupting exams because "if the people don't pass at the end of the year, it means-they are nothing.
After that, they will be carrying guns on the other side of the fence because they are not educated. The UDF are the baby-sitters of the ANC." Both UDF and Inkatha leaders say they are in favour of peace talks – though a youth activist pointed out their priority was setting up the defence committees because "that is the only way we can stop them killing us. If we didn't embark on defence committees we would all have been forced to join Inkatha by now."
The apparent disparity between the sentiments of leaders and the war at the grassroots level has prompted definitions of the battle as being increasingly taken over by armed gangs of no particular political hue who are totally out of control. The reality, as people like Kerchhoff point out, is that the battle is fundamentally political. Political antagonisms throughout Natal run so deep that the best outcome to be hoped for in a situation like Maritzburg's is a temporary truce.
On one hand, the militant youth congresses are involved in a fight against the apartheid system. They see Inkatha – as the government of KwaZulu for the past 12 years – very much as part of that system. On the other hand, there is what Gerhard Maré of Natal University's Centre for Applied Social Sciences describes as Inkatha's desire to dominate all of Natal. This, he says, is part of a political strategy in terms of which Natal, and the boast of the support of six million Zulus, is a stepping-stone for the Inkatha leadership on to the national political stage.
"It is very difficult in the long run to imagine Inkatha coexisting with the UDF and Cosatu," said Maré. "There is a very strong trend of saying they solely represent the interests of African people, or of peasants or workers. That approach means they can't allow something else to happen."
A father tells of a son's death
Willie Mpulo, a 49-year-old-resident of Sweetwaters outside Pietermaritzburg, describes how his 22-year-old son, Aaron Bhekabantu, was murdered by what he described as Inkatha-supporting vigilantes on Saturday 4 October. "At 23h30 there was a loud bang at our door and we heard men claim that they were the police. The men demanded that I open the door. They said that they had come looking for qabane a reference to 'comrade'.
"At this time, my yard was thick with Inkatha men: there could have been well over 100 about the area of my house. The men were heavily armed with assegais, spears, bush knives and sticks. "One of the leaders insisted: "We want to know why he did not come to join Inkatha at our meeting." "Perceiving that there was no alternative, Bhekabantu and I decided to wage a fight I grabbed a stick but the Inkatha mob said: 'No, old man, we don't want you, we want your son.'
"We heard members of the mob exclaim: 'We must burn the house', and thereafter unsuccessfully attempt to get petrol from a car. In all the confusion, Bhekabantu managed to slip out the back door of the house. "As my niece Mnandi later recounted, Bhekabantu entered her house in an effort to hide from the mob. Moments later, the mob broke the windows to Mnandi 's house and smashed down the doors. They entered the house and repeatedly stabbed Bhekabantu. "After killing him they pulled him from the bed and dragged him outside where he was left for dead.
Church leaders plan a service for peace
In response to the soaring death rate in Pietermaritzburg's townships, national and local church leaders – including Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu – are planning a "peace service" in the troubled Edendale township. They have called on people "of all political persuasions" in and around Pietermaritzburg to attend the service, scheduled for Sunday at 2pm in the Edendale Lay Ecumenical Centre.
The church leaders have also asked congregations throughout South Africa to pray for the success of the service, and for all those living in the strife-torn areas. The event will be hosted by the Rev Liso Jafta, acting chairman of the Pietermaritzburg Council of Churches. Among the church dignatories who will attend are Archbishop Tutu of the Anglican Church, the Rev Khoza Mgojo, president of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, the Rev Stanley Mogoba, Methodist president-elect and the Rev John Borman, Methodist leader of the Natal coastal area. A senior Catholic representative will also be present.
According to a member of the organising committee, the initiative has been taken "in view of the fact that at the very least 138 people have died in the fighting around Pietermaritzburg this year – 39 in September, and 38 so far in October." He said the service would give the clergy an opportunity to identify with the people in their suffering. "We hope that 8 large number of people from all backgrounds win attend the service as an act of solidarity with all those who have suffered in the violence, and to demonstrate their deep desire for justice and peace.
"We also hope the service will en- courage existing church efforts to end the violence and inspire new efforts." Archbishop Tutu has been mentioned in some quarters as a possible mediator, but a member of his staff said yesterday that there were no plans at this stage for action beyond his participation in the service. "He is of course being kept in touch with the situation by the local church representatives who know of his concern about the situation." – Carmel Rickard.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.