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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

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An opinion poll conducted by the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times toward the end of last year found the ANC had 46 percent support in Natal compared to the IFP's 19 percent. But this does not mean that an outright ANC victory is a foregone conclusion. The poll gave the National Party (NP) 21 percent of the vote and the liberal Democratic Party (DP) 4 percent, bringing to 44 percent those not voting for the ANC.

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Buthelezi has successfully manipulated ethnic emotions to serve his cause. But his dilemma is that he cannot face the prospect of humiliation at the polls. ``The harsh reality is that he is the one man who could prevent the elections taking place,'' says a Western diplomat. ``So every effort has to be made to bring him into the constitutional process.''

Indian vote a factor

One of the most unpredictable factors in the Natal poll is the way the Indian community will vote. Indians, caught between their traumatic experience under apartheid and fear of black domination, have registered a 40 percent undecided vote in recent polls.

The remaining 60 percent appear to split around 50-50 between the NP with some opting for the DP and pro-Indian Minority Front of Amichand Rajbansi.

``Our people remember the past and how they were forcibly removed from their homes under apartheid,'' says Kishore Juggath, chairman of the ANC's Lower North Coast Zone near Durban. ``The problem is that a lot of Indians fear black violence, and they believe that the National Party can still provide them with security.''

But Indians and whites are not the only people disillusioned with failed efforts to end the decade-old conflict between Inkatha and ANC-supporting Zulus.

``The ANC and IFP are always killing each other, and I am scared that the election is going to be very violent,'' says Sipho Dhlodhlo, a laborer at an automobile repair shop in Umhlanga north of Durban. ``I am a Christian, and I yearn for peace in our land. I am hoping that things will change after the election and that there will be more jobs and houses.''

Many Zulus in Natal are card-carrying members of both the IFP and ANC but support neither. ``Most black people in Natal will say they belong to the IFP or the ANC,'' says Vusi Ndlele, a technical student from KwaMashu near Durban. ``But many will vote for the National Party in the hope that it will bring peace.''

ANC President Nelson Mandela was given a hero's welcome when he visited Natal in December and drew crowds ranging between 5,000 and 15,000.

Both Mr. Mandela and De Klerk have rejected outright any question of a sovereign state in Natal.

The ANC's Jacob Zuma, former chairman of the ANC's branch in southern Natal, is the ANC's candidate for premier of the region and is widely regarded as the man most likely to replace Buthelezi as the region's most prominent politician. He has been a key figure in behind-the-scenes talks aimed at securing the Zulu monarchy.

It remains to be seen whether King Goodwill Zwelithini would accept the role of constitutional monarch with Mr. Zuma as premier of the region. Diplomats believe that this is a possible scenario if reports are true that Mandela has secretly offered Buthelezi a senior government post if he takes part in the election.

Voters wary of ANC power

Following a summit with Mandela on March 1, Buthelezi tentatively registered for the election but insisted that the IFP's participation be conditional on international mediation to resolve remaining differences between the IFP and ANC.

Many voters in the Indian, white, and mixed-race colored minorities have bought De Klerk's message that the power of the ANC must be checked if South Africa is to be spared from the fate of other African countries where abuse of power and corruption have led to rapid deterioration after independence.

``I am not saying that the NP will win,'' said Scott Norkie, a mixed-race artisan who decided to vote for the NP rather than the DP after attending a De Klerk rally in the colored neighborhood of Wentworth on March 3. ``But they will emerge as the second-strongest party and the most effective to keep the ANC in check.''