A soaring death rate and a flurry of "peace talks" have made this a crucial weekend for both the war mongers and the peace brokers in Natal's two-year township carnage. In Ulundi, Inkatha's Central Committee is meeting to decide its response to the two peace plans on the table: those of Cosatu/UDF and of Inkatha president Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Natal's townships, which have seen 30 violent deaths in the past seven days alone. Of these deaths, 22 occurred in Durban over the last four days of last week, many of them related to the murder of youth leader Chris Ntuli.
On Monday, police said they had found nine bodies in Inanda over the weekend but residents said the death toll was far higher. Residents are bracing themselves for a combined onslaught. They fear:
- Reprisal attacks following this week's spate of deaths, and
- The "iron fist'' Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok has threatened to use against United Democratic Front and Cosatu activists.
There was much talk this week of peace. So far, this has amounted to little more than talk about commitment to peace, but in some quarters it has been accompanied by a remarkable change in tone. At a news conference in Durban, officials of Cosatu and UDF affiliates released a statement in which, for the first time, they say they share with Inkatha a "common view and commitment to a mass movement for peace". The official statement continued: "Whilst Cosatu and the UDF largely share a common political position which differs from that of Inkatha, all three organisations share an abhorrence of apartheid and are committed to achieving peace in Natal. "It would also seem that in broad terms our conceptions of how this could be achieved have moved much closer than before. "We believe this constitutes the basis for a joint initiative on a peace conference and a peace process."
The Cosatu/UDF plan is for a peace conference to be convened by a number of church and community leaders, among them Archbishop Denis Hurley. The Buthelezi proposal is equally high-profile, involving massive international funding. However, both plans presuppose extensive preparations on the ground -which appear not to have been undertaken yet, and are unlikely to occur before private talks with a mediator or conciliator. Buthelezi has made plain his dislike of some aspects of the Cosatu/UDF plan: referring to the convenors he said he was not prepared to meet, at least for the first round of talks, with "outsiders". But he also made it clear that if certain conditions are met he might consider a compromise solution.
During debate in the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly on the Cosatu/UDF plan, several MPs complained that some priests were acting as though they were "drunk on communion wine". The language of any central committee announcement this weekend is likely to come under close scrutiny to see whether a call by Buthelezi for a "moratorium on mud-slinging" is being honoured. The language of the African National Congress is also being monitored. Buthelezi has taken exception to a recent Radio Freedom broadcast which implied that jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela blamed lnkatha for the violence – something Mandela was at pains to avoid in his recent letter to Buthelezi. Another potentially serious problem is this week's intervention by Vlok, and his clear implication that he held UDF/Cosatu/ ANC activists responsible for the violence.
Referring to the "revolutionary Cosatu/UDF alliance", he said activists were operating under instructions from the ANC. He said the clergymen involved -in the peace initiative were "being in spanned by the ANC/SA Communist Party to do their devilish work". Vlok announced a massive increase in police personnel and equipment to be deployed in Natal, adding that he had discussed the matter during a recent visit to Buthelezi. This caused consternation in some quarters, because of the possible interpretation that Vlok and Buthelezi had together designed the new "iron fist'' strategy.
However, a move seen as extremely conciliatory, Cosatu did not raise the issue at its press conference. Instead, Cosatu's Natal regional secretary Thami Mohlomi, said the last time Cosatu/UDF and Inkathan had talks, they came to grief when a number of UDF leaders were detained. Mohlomi said he hoped the "iron fist" speech did not mean that Vlok would once against wreck a promising peace initiative by wide-scale detentions. Democratic Party officials have warned that Vlok's remarks "legitimised" the activities of those involved in violence against Cosatu/UDF while MP Peter Gastrow said Vlok's one-sided and "Rambo-like" approach was extremely dangerous.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.