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Zulu Chiefs on Front Line Of Natal's 9-Year Civil War

Conflict in South African province pits tradition against modernity

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ZULU Chief Zibuse Mlaba has paid a heavy price for choosing sides in a political power struggle that has challenged the traditional way of life in the rural parts of South Africa's Natal Province and brought the eternal conflict between the old and the new into sharp focus.

"The political atmosphere here is so intense that you cannot live your life without making a choice between the two sides," Chief Mlaba told the Monitor in a new community center high above the Dusi River in the Valley of a Thousand Hills.

The struggle in Natal is between Zulu supporters of the traditionalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Zulus loyal to the more middle-class African National Congress (ANC), who have been waging an undeclared civil war here for nine years.

Mlaba made his choice in 1988 after his elder brother, who was the chief before him, was assassinated by unidentified gunmen as he sat watching television. The younger Mlaba, who already leaned toward the ANC, reported the killing to the police, but no arrests were ever made. He has no doubt that his brother was killed by IFP supporters bent on curbing the influence of the ANC.

"I haven't slept at home since 1989," Mlaba said. "It is common knowledge that I am a target of the IFP. They regard me as a stumbling block."

Across the Dusi River, Chief Bangubukhosi Mdluli, an IFP-leaning chief, is coming under increasing pressure from his subjects as they see the relative peace and economic development in Mlaba's territory on the other side of the valley. These leaders are the key players in a conflict that transcends politics: The ANC and the IFP represent two different streams of consciousness.

The strategy in ANC ranks is to persuade people and their chiefs to allow "free political activity" in their areas so that people can make up their own minds in the run-up to the country's first nonracial democratic ballot. IFP leaders regard the ANC's strategy as a form of intimidation against IFP supporters.

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