THE declaration of emergency rule in strife-torn Natal Province on March 31 has failed to curb escalating political violence ahead of the first all-race elections scheduled for April 26-28.
Growing uncertainty has sent formerly buoyant financial markets into a downward spiral and sparked widespread panic among the white minority, who have joined lines at stores nationwide to stockpile food and gas. Pamphlets circulated by facsimile and mail advise whites on how to survive the disruption of services before and after the poll. Newspapers carry daily reports about pre-election panic, which has sent depressed consumer sales soaring.
The death toll in Natal - the focus of a relentless power struggle between rival Zulu factions loyal to the African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha Freedom Party - has risen to 64 since the emergency declaration.
ANC President Nelson Mandela confirmed over the April 2 weekend that a planned summit between himself, President Frederik de Klerk, Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini would go ahead at an undisclosed venue on April 8.
``At best it could improve the atmosphere for an election and lead to some joint peace ventures to calm tensions,'' says a Western diplomat. ``But it could just as well turn into another counsel of despair.''
Diplomats and political analysts say the four-way summit is the last hope for negotiating the holding of free and fair elections in Natal. If the summit fails to resolve the conflict, the government will most likely increase emergency measures, and hundreds of Inkatha activists could be detained.
On April 5 in the coastal town of Empangeni in northern Natal, tens of thousands of Inkatha-supporting Zulu demonstrators defied emergency regulations outlawing the carrying of dangerous weapons. Police removed firearms and metal spears, but the Zulu marchers refused to part with their traditional weapons - sharpened sticks, clubs, and cowhide shields.
Security forces guarded ANC offices and surrounded them with razor wire to avoid a repetition of the violence that erupted in Johannesburg March 28. A clash between Inkatha marchers, ANC guards, and mystery snipers ended in the loss of 53 lives.
ANC officials in Natal, reeling from an Easter weekend of massacres and random revenge killings that left scores of its supporters dead, have criticized the emergency as ineffective. Some liberal newspaper editors and academics charged the emergency was a backward step that raised prospects of new tyranny developing after the election.
``Before our new democracy has even been born, it has become hostage to political expedience,'' stated the Sunday Times of Johannesburg, the country's main weekly newspaper.
Attempts at international mediation to resolve political differences between Inkatha and the ANC, which have led to Inkatha boycotting the poll, were delayed until next week.
Inkatha and the ANC have failed to reach agreement on the terms of reference for the international mediators, including former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington. Mr. Kissinger and Lord Carrington, who according to South African mediators are due in the country the week of April 11, have indicated they are not prepared to mediate until terms of reference for the talks have been finalized.
Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha insists the April election date must be postponed to allow implementation of any agreement flowing from the mediation. Mr. Mandela's ANC insists the election must go ahead regardless of the mediation effort and that any agreement reached can be implemented after the election.
Diplomats say that the two sides are close to an agreement on guaranteeing the future of the Zulu monarchy by inserting a special clause into the interim constitution that would secure the position of King Goodwill, but would not offer a political future to Buthelezi, whose political life as head of the KwaZulu government ends after the election.
End of a homeland
The KwaZulu administration, a creation of the apartheid era, would be integrated into the administration of a new KwaZulu/Natal Province.
Inkatha, with the backing of the Zulu monarch, is also demanding greater political and fiscal autonomy for the region.
So far, an estimated 1,200 troops of the South African Defense Force have taken up position in the major townships around Durban. The ANC is demanding that the KwaZulu Police be removed from the control of Buthelezi's KwaZulu government and placed under the control of the South African Police.
The threat of a mutiny in the senior ranks of the police surfaced again April 5 when two senior police generals, suspended by Mr. De Klerk two weeks ago on suspicion of their involvement in gun-running rackets to Inkatha, returned to their offices.