South Africa: Election '94 and the Rogue Provinces

By Hamill, James | Contemporary Review, August 1994 | Go to article overview

South Africa: Election '94 and the Rogue Provinces

Hamill, James, Contemporary Review

Although it was plagued by a host of logistical difficulties, South Africa's historic multiracial election, held on April 26-29, was still a considerable triumph, particularly so when one considers the apocalyptic forecasts being made by commentators, both local and international, only a matter of weeks earlier. The poll had been surrounded by fears of widespread violence and concern was especially acute in the two areas most likely to be affected by the threatened boycott of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): first, and most obviously, Kwazulu-Natal as it was the IFP's territorial base and second, the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging (PWV) region, principally in the East Rand through the ongoing conflict between the largely ANC supporting townships and the adjacent migrant workers' hostels which, since 1990, have effectively become regional military bases for the IFP. In addition, the non-participating paramilitaries of the ultra-right were making their customary warlike noises and threatening to launch a `Boer freedom war' in resistance to the new, majority-based, dispensation. Yet, as it turned out, the election was almost entirely free of violence and, with the exception of a number of high profile car bombings in the PWV region -- in central Johannesburg, in Germiston and at Jan Smuts airport -- the terrorist right proved to be wholly ineffective spoilers; a classic case of `the dog that didn't bark.' There were no incidences of `drive by shootings' of voters or of bomb attacks upon polling stations, both of which had been greatly feared in the days prior to April 26.

The prompt arrest of 34 of the Afrikanerweerstandsbeweging's (AWB) so-called Ystergarde (Iron Guard) raised the standing, almost overnight, of the South African Police (SAP). Hitherto, the SAP had been viewed with intense suspicion by the ANC and black communities which was hardly surprising in view of the March 1994 findings of the Gladstone Commission of inquiry into political violence which documented deep complicity, at the very highest levels of the force, in IFP hit-squad activity against the ANC in the PWV and Natal regions. The round-up of the far-right terrorists pointed to the possibility at least of a new phase in ANC-SAP relations and of a police force now prepared to come to terms with the new realities -- a development greatly assisted by the ANC's various guarantees to the security forces on issues such as job security, pensions and indemnity for crimes committed prior to January 1994 (in return for the full disclosure of crimes committed on behalf of the apartheid regime).

In the main, however, the steep decline in violence was the result of the IFP's decision, taken on April 19, to participate in the elections at both the regional and national level. This decision was a clear retreat from the IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi's previous hardline position in which he had insisted that participation could only follow the granting of the IFP demand for what amounted to an autonomous Zulu state within a broader confederation of states. Such a demand was entirely unacceptable to the ANC, to F. W. de Klerk's National Party (NP), and indeed to a substantial majority of Zulus in the region concerned. Over a twelve-month period Buthelezi had continually moved the goalposts on the question of his electoral participation -- making impossible demands and even entering an alliance with the pro-apartheid right -- in the apparent hope of scuttling the electoral process and thus avoiding a sizeable defeat. However, Buthelezi finally capitulated in the face of a possible fragmentation of his party as pro-participation elements made it clear that they were not prepared to follow him, and some of his more extreme advisers such as Walter Felgate and Mario Ambrosini, towards the political oblivion which surely awaited the IFP in the aftermath of an election which it had boycotted. There were also reports that the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, having secured firm guarantees from the ANC of a constitutional monarchy in KwaZulu-Natal, at the April 8 summit in the Kruger National Park, had intimated to Chief Minister Buthelezi that a boycott was no longer his preferred strategy. …

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