Natal: Crucible of South African Democracy
A Zulu boycott in Natal, where a low-grade civil war has brewed for a decade, could damage the credibility of national all-race elections
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA
THE brutal political power struggle in this deceptively beautiful former British colony - with its lush vegetation and undulating hills - may determine whether South Africa's first all-race elections in April are judged ``free and fair.''Skip to next paragraph
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The future of this politically polarized region could also determine whether the South Africa that emerges from the April 27-29 election can maintain its territorial integrity in the face of claims for ethnic Zulu autonomy. The fragmented homeland of KwaZulu - which reflects the region's history of violent conquest, first by the Boers (Afrikaners) in the first half of the 19th century and later by the British - is an integral part of Natal.
Natal Province - to be known as KwaZulu/Natal in the interim constitution - has already endured a decade of low-grade civil war between Zulu supporters of the traditionalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and those who back the more urbanized African National Congress (ANC).
Natal's 7.5 million or so inhabitants - of whom nearly 5 million are Zulus - represent about 20 percent of the country's population. The rest of Natal's population is comprised of about 1 million Indians, 750,000 whites, and 150,000 mixed-race coloreds. In addition, more than 3 million Zulus live outside Natal, mainly in the Johannesburg complex and eastern Transvaal Province.
More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict. During the past three years, political deaths in Natal account for nearly half of all lives claimed in political violence.
Now that the country's first democratic election is approaching, fears are mounting that an Inkatha-led boycott of the poll could discredit the election result in Natal to such a degree that it would cast doubt over the national poll.
Two recent massacres of ANC supporters have jolted diplomats and election monitors. On Feb. 19, 15 youths were gunned down in a half-way house at Creighton, a small village near Ixopo near Natal. On March 6, 11 people were gunned down in Bhambayi, a crowded squatter area near Durban with a long history of conflict between IFP and ANC supporters.
Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the IFP leader who has remained on the periphery of negotiations over the past four years, has rejected the interim constitution on the grounds that it is a recipe for domination by the ANC and its South African Communist Party allies.
Chief Buthelezi rejects claims by President Frederik de Klerk that the interim constitution is essentially federal in nature and allows for self-determination for ethnic minorities such as the IFP-supporting Zulus and right-wing Afrikaners.
Buthelezi insists that a recent package of concessions approved by the ANC and government in a bid to persuade the IFP and white right to take part in the election do not alter the dominance of central government power in relation to the regions.
``I will not lead the IFP into an election that ratifies a fatally flawed constitution ... that is going to polarize the country,'' Buthelezi said on March 7.
Most analysts and diplomats say Buthelezi's brinksmanship at the negotiating table has won some important concessions from the ANC on the devolution of power to the provinces. But they add that his recalcitrant style and hard-line tactics, which are widely seen as feeding political violence in the region, have lost him most of his former allies in the business and international arena.
``The damage has already been done,'' says University of Cape Town political scientist Robert Schrire. ``Those who might have supported the IFP have gone elsewhere and are unlikely to return at this stage.''
Even two years ago, there was still some doubt as to whether the IFP could beat the ANC at the polls in Natal.