Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hotbed of S. African Violence Cools off Just before Election

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hotbed of S. African Violence Cools off Just before Election

Article excerpt

It was a strange sight for those accustomed to the killing fields of South Africa's Zulu heartland.

Longtime enemies David Ntombela of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Sifiso Nkabinde of the African National Congress (ANC) were calling each other "son" and "father" and joking with lively bonhomie at a June 13 peace summit. Just the thought of the two warlords sitting side by side talking about peace was unthinkable a year ago.

"Call me a peacelord," Mr. Nkabinde explained to a puzzled journalist. "We are saying, 'Let bygones be bygones.' "

In KwaZulu-Natal province an embryonic peace initiative is under way to end a decade of virtual civil war between the ANC of President Nelson Mandela and its rival, the IFP of Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

The ANC-Inkatha rivalry is perhaps the most destabilizing factor in an otherwise smooth transition to democracy since April 1994 elections ended white rule. In this province, about 50 people die monthly from the violence the ANC-Inkatha rivalry spawns.

Observers are cautious about the initiative but say it appears to be the first serious effort to end a conflict that has killed some 14,000 people. Warlike rhetoric has decreased, and there appears to be genuine sincerity, they say.

"This is a breakthrough because we are approaching the problem differently," says Jacob Zuma, the ANC's national chairman and provincial economic affairs and tourism minister. "In the past we made accusations. Now we are looking at what we have in common rather than differences."

Skeptics who have seen peace talks before say the parties have simply been trying to quell violence before the hotly contested local elections June 26. They say the four-month-old initiative by provincial leaders is not trickling down to the grass roots. But senior officials of both parties insist that this time is different, for various reasons.

First, they are using a novel approach: looking at history to determine what went wrong.

The ANC and IFP were close during the fight against apartheid but split in 1979 over the ANC's endorsement of armed struggle and sanctions. Then the white-led National Party government fomented violence by supporting Inkatha hit squads against the ANC and by installing Chief Buthelezi as a Zulu homeland leader. …

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