Why the Killing (and Making Up) in KwaZulu-Natal Violence Aims to Destabilize S. African Province before 1999 Elections, Says a Mayor from Behind Barbed Wire

Article excerpt

When the stars come out over the dark green hills of beautiful KwaZulu-Natal, so do the sophisticated guns and the hooded assassins. Nine months prior to South Africa's second democratic elections, indiscriminate murder has reemerged as the political tactic of choice in this strategically important province. The violence has reached a level to rival that of Algeria.

"I believe there are two motives for all this violence," said Andrew Ragavaloo, the mayor of hard-hit Richmond, in an interview. "It is to destabilize and demoralize the populace prior to the 1999 elections."

On July 28, while the army patrolled other parts of the Richmond district, gunmen crept through the bush to reach a village deep in a rural area. Inside one house, a family of nine slept. The killers kicked down the door and executed everyone, including several children. Neighbors said the family was apolitical, and reported that the gunmen spoke English and Afrikaans and "sounded white."

While statistics differ depending on their source, there's little doubt the murder rate here is rising again. Whites are believed to be fomenting black-on-black violence. The number of murders had been falling in recent years, after reaching a high in the early 1990s as politicians vied with each other to intimidate the public prior to the 1994 elections. Provincewide, murders averaged 167 per month in 1993, but fell to 22 in 1997. But in July alone in the district of Richmond, the toll was 40.

Mayor Ragavaloo is a member of the African National Congress (ANC). The party is in power nationally, and it controls the Richmond municipal council. But the KwaZulu-Natal provincial administration is governed by the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Ragavaloo says the perpetrators hope this campaign of terror will lead to disillusionment with the ANC, so that voters will join the IFP to be safe. He claims that 94 people have been murdered in Richmond since May 1997, and that 76 of them were ANC members, including four of his councilors.

Both the ANC and the IFP used murder as a political strategy prior to the 1994 elections. But in the last two years they have sought an entente to permit them to govern side by side in their respective fiefdoms. The two parties jettisoned their more infamous members from the 1994 pre-election period. Among them was Sfiso Nkabinde, a former ANC leader widely regarded as a brutal warlord.

After his expulsion, Mr. Nkabinde ran in a council by-election, losing to the ANC candidate. The murder spree started shortly after. Four ANC councilors in Richmond have been killed. …