Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

South African Violence Escalates

Inkatha recruitment drive targets rift between ANC rivals and black township councilmen

THE Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party is flexing its political muscle in townships like this where police shot and killed 12 people on March 24. The rival African National Congress condemned the shootings as "savage and unprovoked murder" and demanded an independent investigation and the immediate suspension of the police involved.

The police shootings took place a mile from a Daveyton sports stadium shortly before an Inkatha rally was due to begin midday on March 24.

About these ads

Escalating conflict in the townships coincides with the slowing down of the national negotiating process in which the government appears increasingly confident and the ANC under mounting strain from a constituency resisting joint rule.

Eyewitnesses told the Monitor that the police had opened fire without provocation on the 200-strong crowd from two sides and that the men had been forced to defend themselves.

The men, armed with axes, spears, and sticks, were discussing strategy in the event of an Inkatha attack, the witnesses said. But a police spokesman said the police opened fire in self-defense after being attacked by the crowd.

During the clash, a white policeman, Lance-Sergeant P. van Wyk, was killed by the crowd.

Beneath the tragedy of Daveyton, another episode in a spiral of violence in the country's segregated black townships, lies a pattern of increasing political and tribal tension.

The pattern suggests that the ANC is battling to control some of those it counts as its supporters - notably young radicals, known as "comrades," and Xhosa-speaking migrant workers, known as the Amabutho.

Inkatha, also facing divisions between "warlords" and peace advocates, is relying on a more hierarchical tribal authority to exploit the ANC's organizational weakness. It appears to be pursuing an aggressive recruitment drive under the mantle of spreading the message of the peace accord between ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela and Inkatha Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

About these ads

Inkatha finds focus

Inkatha appears to have found a focus for its political campaign in the urban townships by appealing to beleaguered black councillors, who are under ANC pressure to resign because of their collaboration with apartheid.

The most notable feature of the last two outbreaks of urban violence - at Alexandra and Daveyton near Benoni - is that key local black councilmen are recent Inkatha converts.

In Alexandra, Prince Mokoena, the non-Zulu mayor of the dormant Alexandra Town Council, joined Inkatha shortly before the outbreak of violence there three weeks ago.

In Daveyton, a township about 30 miles from Johannesburg, Mayor Martin Mthimunye, who replaced the more popular Tom Mboya after he quit last year, is also a recent Inkatha convert.

"For a long time these councilmen did not have a political home," says Inkatha Central Committee member Musa Myeni, the most-senior Inkatha official in the Johannesburg area. "They came to us and we urged them to rise above local politics and join a national political party like Inkatha, which has the capacity and ability to protect citizens in various areas."

Mr. Myeni, who attended the Daveyton rally, said it was held to inaugurate the local Inkatha branch and to spread the Mandela-Buthelezi peace pact message.

Mr. Mboya said he was prevented by soldiers at gunpoint from taking two seriously injured people to the hospital after the shootings.

President Frederik de Klerk vowed that there would be a proper investigation of the shootings, but he demanded that political leaders put an end to the "faction fighting" among their supporters.

Since Chief Buthelezi and Mr. Mandela signed their peace pact at the end of January, political violence has left more than 200 dead. The toll this month is already approaching 1990 levels, when about 300 people a month were killed and a total of 3,500 people died in political violence.

The ANC campaign against the councilmen - scores of whom have quit - is led by the recently-formed Civic Associations of Southern Transvaal (CAST), an umbrella-group headed by the ANC's Moses Mayekiso.

In recent months, Inkatha has launched a counteroffensive by actively recruiting the beleaguered councilmen and offering them a political home. "CAST knows very well that if they dare touch one of our members there will be trouble," says Inkatha's Musa Myeni.

Groups add recruits

Inkatha does not take part in local council politics, but it appears to have found fertile ground for recruitment, often beyond Zulu ranks, by befriending black councilmen.

"In this way we have been able to penetrate areas which we were unable to reach before," says Myeni.

The Inkatha strategy, which puts them in a natural alliance with the ruling National Party and the security forces, appears to have slowed down the earlier success of the ANC-backed campaign.

The Pretoria government has acknowledged that segregated black councils must end but insists that the present councils should remain until a more representative system of local government is negotiated.

In its reaction to the March 24 police shooting, the ANC did not claim political responsibility for the armed vigilantes and came as close as it has to admitting a tribal element in the township tension. The ANC statement said that the police had confronted a crowd of "mainly Xhosa-speaking migrant workers armed with cultural weapons" while their leaders were still negotiating with the police.

Talking with the police

Khaya Leve, who was one of a three-person delegation who negotiated with the police minutes before the shooting, said the men - known as the Amabutho - were discussing how they could protect the community in case of an Inkatha attack.

"We had no intention of attacking Inkatha," says Mr. Leve. "The only purpose of the gathering was to protect the community in case of an Inkatha attack."

But Myeni insists Inkatha's intelligence was that the group had plans to disrupt the meeting and precipitate a major war between the two sides.

"The police spotted them just in time," he said.

But Leve counters that local ANC-backed civic leaders of the Daveyton Interim Committee had taken steps to avoid a confrontation by meeting two weeks earlier with Inkatha officials and a priest.

"The community of Daveyton is not opposed to the existence of any political organization in our township," Leve says. "But we insist that their members must act in a peaceful way."

Marches by the warrior-like Zulus armed with sticks, shields and axes are the source of major tension in the black townships and are invariably preceded by rumors of a Zulu attack.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.