GEORGE NZIMANDE was returning home from work when his car was stopped by a group of armed men in the Mpumuza district adjoining the town. He was shot from behind and left in his battered automobile at the side of the road - another statistic in a vicious civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people in Natal Province in the last four years.
Mr. Nzimande, a baker's assistant, was headed home to the undulating hills of Nxamalala. He was buried the following Saturday under the black, green, and gold colors of the African National Congress (ANC) flag, within sight of the Methodist church where he was a lay preacher.
Political researchers and lawyers have found that political allegiance is one of the main triggers of the conflict here that has transformed the scenic hills and valleys around Pietermaritzburg into Natal province's ``killing fields.''
Supporters of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha movement are pitted against supporters of the ANC and its allies. It is a struggle for political power and legitimacy within the black community. It is also part of the transition from tribal society to more materialistic urban values.
Outside Natal province it is a struggle with ethnic overtones. But within Natal, it is Zulu tribesman who is fighting Zulu.
Both Inkatha and ANC claim to have the same goals. But they differ sharply on strategy. Inkatha spurns the ANC's armed struggle against apartheid and its advocacy of economic sanctions against South Africa.
A rigid structure of tribal chiefs - some are known as warlords because of their ruthless methods - make it difficult for ANC supporters to travel in areas that are Inkatha strongholds.
Revenge killings often find the wrong victims and leave innocent family members shot, burned, or hacked to death.
Following the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela in February, hopes were high that he and Chief Buthelezi - who have a relationship spanning nearly half a century - would meet and set an example of peace.
But the meeting never took place. Mr. Mandela was confronted by ANC hard-liners who said it would be disastrous to bestow on Buthelezi a credibility they felt he did not deserve. The warring parties also ignored Mandela's plea to ``throw your weapons into the sea.''
Instead the violence escalated. On average each month more than 50 people die, often horrific, grisly deaths. A lost generation of youths - known as comrades - sharpen their gruesome array of weapons by night and seek out ``the enemy'' by day.
The ANC and Inkatha talk incessantly about peace, but the war escalates. Peace initiatives are born, gain momentum, fizzle, and die. The ANC has made it clear that it is bent on destroying Inkatha. Buthelezi, resisting ANC attempts to impose its political will, boasts that there can be no national political settlement until the Natal violence is resolved.
But ANC officials accuse Zulu and South African police of siding with Inkatha.
The relentless conflict has polarized an entire community. White civil rights workers who monitor the violence try to mediate - but often in vain. Even the courts have proved ineffective in a community where the social fabric is disintegrating, and where the white man's legal system clashes with tribal justice.
``The violence has gone on so long without any effective prosecutions that people are far more prepared to take the law into their own hands,'' said civil rights lawyer John Jeffries. ``With this has come a new criminality.''
Inkatha has been losing political ground in the past two years, but still there is no end in sight to the war.