Land Where the Killing Never Stops South Africa Has Seen a Big Reduction in Political Violence - except in KwaZulu-Natal, Where 18 People Died Last Week, Reports Mary Braid

By Braid, Mary | The Independent (London, England), July 12, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Land Where the Killing Never Stops South Africa Has Seen a Big Reduction in Political Violence - except in KwaZulu-Natal, Where 18 People Died Last Week, Reports Mary Braid


Braid, Mary, The Independent (London, England)


SIFISO NKABINDE'S house, high on a ridge, is a palace in the midst of squalor. The self-styled strongman's pink and white two-storey home boasts French windows and an upstairs balcony with a breathtaking view of KwaZulu-Natal's rolling hills.

The house is surrounded by high walls, its only entrance an electronic, iron-barred gate. About a dozen youths, drawn from the hundreds of huts clustered below, mill around outside, protecting the property. Mr Nkabinde, the undisputed king of Magoda Township, is away on business.

The Nkabinde family's general store sits next door, a small, one- room shop selling basics to the poor: flour in bulk, cold cans of Coke, cigarettes and chemicals for woodworm. It was the stores - he has at least one other - which Mr Nkabinde claims made him wealthy.

The African National Congress, however, suggests otherwise. A year ago, it expelled Mr Nkabinde, then mayor of the nearby town of Richmond and ANC leader in the Midlands region of KwaZulu-Natal, accusing him of being a police spy. Since then violence has swept through Richmond and surrounding townships such as Magoda and Indaleni. Mysterious gunmen have claimed almost 70 lives, without the police being able to stop them; in the past week 18 people have been murdered.

The latest violence erupted when gunmen opened fire on a packed Richmond tavern during a World Cup match. Eight people died, including Percy Thompson, deputy mayor of Richmond's ANC-controlled council. Today a heavily guarded President Nelson Mandela will arrive in Richmond for Mr Thompson's funeral, and will no doubt condemn the violence, for which the ANC has blamed Mr Nkabinde. Three months ago he was sensationally acquitted on 18 murder charges, none relating to the present bout of violence, and emerged triumphant from the court flanked by more than a dozen heavily armed bodyguards.

The stakes are high and rising. The South African Human Rights Commission warned last week that the killings now threaten next year's general election in KwaZulu-Natal, one of only two provinces not controlled by the ANC.

Whatever the justice of the accusations against Mr Nkabinde, politics is involved: since his expulsion from the ANC, he has spearheaded a defection to the United Democratic Movement, a new political party formed by Bantu Holomisa and Roelf Meyer, former leading lights in the ANC and National Party. He is now general secretary of the party and dismisses all allegations against him as ANC lies designed to discredit him and the UDM.

Richmond, meanwhile, is gripped by terror. Police and soldiers guard road junctions separating Magoda township, now a UDM stronghold, and settlements like Indaleni, which remain staunchly ANC, despite residents' claims that Mr Nkabinde threatened to murder them if they did not defect. Although nine of Richmond's 11 ANC councillors resigned last year in apparent support of Mr Nkabinde, his new party was soundly beaten at subsequent by-elections, returning just one councillor, Henry Gwamanda. A number of ANC councillors have since been murdered.

Richmond's Indian mayor Andrew Ragavaloo, a teacher, cannot leave home without bodyguards and is even shadowed at school. The facts speak for themselves, he says: of the 70 people murdered since Mr Nkabinde's expulsion, all but a handful were card-carrying members of the ANC. The killing, he claims, ceased during the eight months Mr Nkabinde was awaiting trial and started again when he was released.

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Land Where the Killing Never Stops South Africa Has Seen a Big Reduction in Political Violence - except in KwaZulu-Natal, Where 18 People Died Last Week, Reports Mary Braid
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