Chapter 1: Introduction

Before embarking on an investigation of vigilantes and political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, it is important to give an account of what the situation in KwaZulu-Natal constituted and what factors actually led to vigilantism and political violence in that region in the period 1985-1994. Another important aspect is why this period was so important in South African history and how it fits into the general historical context. A further interesting scenario would be an investigation into the most important historical events that took place between 1985-1994 and their impact on the whole issue of political violence and vigilantism in KwaZulu-Natal. Some of these historical events include the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) during the Easter of 1985, the release in 1990 ofNelson Mandela (ANC leader who was imprisoned for 27 years), and the Inkathagate scandal of 1991.

The period 1985-1994 was a significant and crucial time in the history of KwaZulu-Natal - probably the most testing to the region since the Mfecane and theGreat Trek.

It was also a testing time in so far as the stability of the KwaZulu-Natal authorities was concerned, due to the political violence and vigilante activities that were gaining increased momentum in that region. The region witnessed a situation wherein political violence took a drastic turn. Before that period, political violence and vigilante activities occurred only sporadically. Now the continuing instability in KwaZulu-Natal became an indication that the region was at war with itself due to political violence and vigilante activities. It should be noted that in 1985, the then banned ANC started negotiating with the rulingNational Party (NP) behind closed doors. The negotiations had an impact on KwaZulu-Natal as a region, since indoors information was secretly leaked to the people, and as such it created tension among the people of KwaZulu-Natal.

The political hostility that became characteristic of KwaZulu-Natal during the period 1985 - 1994 was unbearable, due to the threat that theUnited Democratic Front (UDF) posed to the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) since its inception in 1983. The IFP viewed the UDF as pro-ANC, and therefore governed by its ideologies and principles. In a way, the UDF was regarded as an internal wing of the ANC. The IFP regarded the ANC as a serious challenge to its hegemony over the running of affairs in KwaZulu-Natal.

The relationship between the UDF and the ANC did not make matters easy for the region, since vigilantes took advantage of the situation in defiance of the strong ties between the two parties. It should be kept in mind that the ANC had many sympathisers in KwaZulu-Natal, while the UDF itself enjoyed a strong base with a large contingent of supporters.1 This scenario was very important in historical context, since the issues of vigilantism and political violence were brought to the fore and got mentioned in newspapers and on the radio more often than before, especially between 1985 and 1994.

The formation of COSATU in the Easter of 1985 was met with hostility from IFP. It was another strong political challenge in what was perceived to be IFP stronghold (KwaZulu-Natal). Contrary to popular belief that the first president of COSATU, Elijah Barayi, sparked off political violence and intolerance in KwaZulu-Natal when he attacked IFP leaderMangosuthu Buthelezi at the federation's launching rally in December 1985, it was not the case. The fact of the matter was that the IFP had already since its formation in the 1970's demonstrated intolerance towards those who were not IFP followers.2It was believed that Barayi's speech had put a final nail in the coffin, by declaring Buthelezi and other homeland leaders "puppets of apartheid". His speech was believed to have started violence in the region to such an extent that vigilantes exploited the unrest, which they were eagerly awaiting. KwaZulu-Natal became uncontrollable, with daggers flying from all directions of the region due to the intolerance that culminated in particular after Barayi's speech. The association between COSATU and the UDF was another orchestrator of violence. There were no illusions whatsoever that the IFP could find favour with the new federation, since it felt particularly threatened by the UDF's uncompromising commitment to mass action, in contrast to the IFP's talk of action in defence of popular struggle.3

The unofficial war between the IFP and the UDF-COSATU alliance took a turn in 1986 when the IFP launched its workers union, called the United Workers Union of South Africa (UWUSA). This was an attempt to counter COSATU's growing influence among workers. Interestingly enough, the IFP had desired a base among workers. If they could not achieve this through COSATU, then they would create their own. UWUSA's launch forced workers to make a conscious political choice. In some cases, COSATU's more overt political stance attracted members, much to the disgust of the IFP, and this created more antagonism between the two unions. What started, as sporadic and isolated incidents became a systematic, organised campaign of violence and intimidation throughout the region, including urban and rural areas. A pattern of IFP attacks emerged in reaction to major gatherings of events organised by COSATU or the UDF. Buses transporting people to or from these events were frequently attacked by impi's (IFP vigilantes).4

The ill-timed decision by the Government in 1986 to lift the state of emergency so soon after it was announced in July 1985, culminated in a series of attacks in the KwaZulu-Natal region, whereby numerous innocent people lost their lives. The violence that plagued KwaZulu-Natal challenged the region's Legislature and the IFP's monopoly over it. In the mid-1980's, the Government aided the IFP with military and financial support, it was believed that since the Government had created the homelands, it was its duty to protect it when needed. It was believed that the lifting of the state of emergency was a grievous mistake by the Government. In a way, the Government was calling upon vigilantes to do as they wish, hence ignoring the danger of political violence that might have erupted into a full-scale civil war in KwaZulu-Natal. By lifting the state of emergency, the Government was believed to be in fear of socialistic ideologies being spread in KwaZulu-Natal should political violence and vigilantism have erupted into a full-scale war. The fear stemmed from the fact that the UDF and ANC might have won supporters with their ideologies, thus creating a serious plight for the KwaZulu-Natal region; a plight in the form of losing ground by the Government and the IFP to the ANC. That in its own was reason enough for the Government to find itself caught in the middle as far as political violence and vigilante activities were concerned.5

Another trend that was typical of vigilante acts by the IFP was its recruitment campaigns designed to counter-act COSATU. The IFP used door-to-door campaigning, shouting "Usuthu". Those who refused to join were accused of being patriotic to the COSATU-UDF alliance, and as such they were beaten up or killed on the spot. Resistance to the IFP was furthermore met with assassination and the looting and torching of homes. While initially only individual activists were targets, it started to affect entire communities that were fighting the IFP's reign of terror. By late 1987, 170 people had been killed as a result of political violence and vigilante activities, and 280 UDF and COSATU members were in detention.6

In an attempt to implement a coherent power process, a COSATU-UDF joint working committee was set up in 1987. The peace talks failed to yield results due to the IFP's uncompromising act of refusing to accept the outcome in favour of COSATU. All efforts to have peace talks between the COSATU-UDF alliance and the IFP failed, until the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990. People then started to hope that a meeting between Buthelezi and Mandela would cool down the hostility between the fighting factions in KwaZulu-Natal. On top of these expectations, the South African State President, F.W. de Klerk, announced in 1990 that the Goldstone Commission under the chairmanship of Judge Richard Goldstone had been appointed to look into the whole issue of political violence and vigilantism in KwaZulu-Natal. The unbanning of the ANC compelled the Government to enter into negotiations with the ANC-COSATU alliance over the signing of the National Peace Accord (NPA), which eventually took place in 1991. The Goldstone Commission was appointed to look into peace initiatives in KwaZulu-Natal, after which De Klerk would decide which of the commission's findings to turn over to the National Peace Committee. There is no doubt that, despite the shortcomings of the NPA, it helped to create a climate in which political negotiations could continue, elections could be held, and transfer of power from the National Party to the Government of National Unity (GNU) could commence. The NPA achieved its objective of initiating some peaceful means for the people of KwaZulu-Natal. The fact that political violence and intimidation continued in that region must not be blamed on the NPA. In a way, it had put an end to the seriousness of the hostility between the IFP and the ANC-COSATU alliance.7 The announcement by De Klerk in Parliament in February 1990, namely that all political parties would be unbanned and political prisoners released from jail, brought much joy to those who were awaiting this day for long. Consequently, all previously banned political parties in South Africa were unbanned in 1990. Some of them had been forced into exile after the banning of their organisations in 1960. Other more unfortunate ones found themselves languishing in jail. The release of political prisoners and unbanning of political organisations brought much joy to the people of South Africa and the whole world. However, in KwaZulu-Natal it was not the case. The period brought more bloodshed and disaster to the region. More political violence erupted. It was a question of vigilante activities taking a centre stage. Mob psychology was pre-dominant to both the middle-aged men and the youth of KwaZulu-Natal. People celebrated the release of political prisoners in a manner that left much to be desired. Both the ANC-COSATU and the IFP were at the receiving end of one another when it came to violence. Vigilante activities were apparent from both the IFP and ANC supporters. Thus, the release of political prisoners and unbanning of political parties, which many South Africans believed was the start of better things to come, brought even more chaos and intensified political violence and vigilantism to KwaZulu-Natal.8

The release of Mandela also brought many fears to a lot of South Africans about the state of things in the country. It was alleged that some people made strong alliances with the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal in order to gain protection for their businesses. Ironically enough, the protection was needed against vigilantes and acts of violence. If this was indeed the case, the alliances that Buthelezi signed meant he knew about the existence of vigilantes and their violence campaigns. As such, he might have been linked to them one-way or the other. Most whites in KwaZulu-Natal believed that with the fluid state of affairs in the region after the release of Mandela, people would just go on the rampage, targeting businessmen and their businesses in celebration. This was not far from the truth, considering what happiness could do to a person once over-excited, bearing in mind the mob psychology that influences many people. Once people do things irrationally, the end results turn to be awful, leaving them to think about their actions and realising how bad it was to have undertaken such actions in the midst of a mob. This was one aspect business people were afraid of, if indeed they made a pact with Buthelezi.9

Henceforth, the release of Nelson Mandela, according to historians and writers like Fatima Meer, brought insecurity within the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature itself. Buthelezi regarded himself as a true fighter of democracy and a leader whom the people dearly loved. However, with the release of Mandela, most of these aspects changed. It became imminent when Buthelezi was accused of having established an anti-Mandela campaign to thwart or destabilize the popularity of Mandela in the KwaZulu-Natal region. This was allegedly done in violent ways and through intimidation.10 As the level of violence in Natal between supporters of the ANC and the IFP escalated, De Klerk announced in October 1990 thatSouth African Defence Force (SADF) troops in the region would be doubled in order to protect law and order. He also stated that troops would be employed on the KwaZulu-Natal borders to stop Umkhonto we Sizwe11 members from entering the region at ease. He furthermore called on Mandela and Buthelezi to meet as soon as possible to find ways to a peaceful resolution for KwaZulu-Natal to put an end to the vigilante activities and political violence. He believed that people might only yield to the advice of Mandela and Buthelezi and stops the gruesome acts they were executing in the name of fighting for freedom. De Klerk pointed out that the release of Mandela was regarded as a way of accommodating more violence in the region, and it was up to Mandela and his counterpart, Buthelezi, to calm down their supporters. De Klerk believed the presence of the South African Police (SAP) and soldiers from the SADF was a futile exercise if the leaders of the two most prominent factions involved in political violence and vigilante activities did not make an effort to put to an end the growing hostility and political intolerance in KwaZulu-Natal.12

The release of Mandela was also regarded by criminal elements as an excuse to engage in vigilante activities in KwaZulu-Natal, in the name of the struggle. Ruthless ANC guerrillas took advantage of the situation, targeting innocent people. This came along with the suspicious mentality that the farmers were holding back against change in KwaZulu-Natal; hence it was alleged that they were backing both the Government and the IFP with financial means to thwart any efforts by the ANC of ever settling or relocating its people peacefully after the unbanning in 1990. It was from one of these instances that the slogan "kill the farmer, kill the Boer" was coined by ANC militants. Homeless people too took advantage of Mandela's release by taking what did not belong to them. This period was therefore a disastrous one for the KwaZulu-Natal region.13

The disaster that plagued KwaZulu-Natal after the release of Mandela also intensified the feud between the ANC and the IFP. It only contributed to more bloodshed and uncertainty. People were no longer safe in their own homes. Political violence and vigilantism were alleged to have reached their peak during this period, since they took the centre stage in KwaZulu-Natal as compared to other issues of life. To the people of KwaZulu-Natal, Mandela's release brought disjointed families and orphans with no future and no means of survival in a demanding world.14

The 1991 Inkathagate scandal, which was politically orientated, produced a cascade of revelations of the alleged collusion between the Government, the IFP and vigilantes. IFP vigilantes were called "Amabutho".15 The main aim of their training was allegedly to thwart any threat the ANC could have posed to the IFP as a party, and therefore KwaZulu-Natal as a region. Despite denials by the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature and the IFP that they had not sent people to the Caprivi in Namibia to undergo military training, the Government finally acknowledged that it had sent 150 people to the Caprivi as part of an agreement between the Government and the IFP to reinforce the security measures in KwaZulu-Natal. It was alleged that the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature asked the Government for help, since it could not afford to train these security personnel. Surprisingly enough, the Government stated that the 150 IFP personnel were trained as bodyguards for KwaZulu-Natal leaders, but members of the group alleged that they were trained in offensive guerrilla warfare in the Caprivi. They also revealed that another, similar camp was in existence in KwaZulu-Natal. The Inkathagate scandal was a big blow for De Klerk's Government, since it was alleged that after their training, the officers were encouraged to commit acts of violence. In a way they were trained to become professional vigilantes in order to cause more hostility and instability in KwaZulu-Natal.16

The Inkathagate scandal brought much uncertainty and more violence to KwaZulu-Natal. What made matters even worse, was the uncompromising approach of Buthelezi, when he refused to take part in the first democratic election scheduled for 27 April 1994. Furthermore, the period between 1992 and 1994 was marked by violence and vigilantism, which made it doubtful that the election would go ahead as planned. It took a lot of persuasion from the international community for Buthelezi to give in, and the election went ahead as planned. It should be taken into consideration that the election did not stop the violence and vigilantism that plagued KwaZulu-Natal. The election only provided hope that maybe one-day, the political violence and vigilantism in KwaZulu-Natal would come to an end.17


C. Charney,Vigilantes, clientalism and the South African state, pp. 1-2.

N. Haysom,Vigilantes: A contemporary form of repression, p. 14.

N. Haysom,Vigilantes: A contemporary form of repression, pp. 14-15.

M. Kentridge,The unofficial war in Natal: Pietermaritzburg under the knife, pp. 1-2.

Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation,The Goldstone Commission's inquiry regarding the prevention of public violence and intimidation in KwaZulu-Natal, pp. 33-34.

D. Philip,Unofficial war, p. 10.

M. Kentridge,The unofficial war in Natal: Pietermaritzburg under the knife, pp. 11-12.

A. Truluck,No blood on our hands: Political violence in the Natal Midlands 1987 - mid-1992 and the role of the state, "white" political parties and business, pp. 99-100.

A.Truluck,No blood in our hands, pp.11-12; M. Shaw,South Africa: Crime in transition, pp. 2-3.

M. Kentridge,The unofficial war in Natal: Pietermaritzburg under the knife, pp. 14-45; Keesing's Record of World Events,Containing ANC-IFP conflict, 12 October 1992, p. 39127.

Military wing of the ANC.

C. Charney,Vigilantes, clientalism and the South African state, pp. 6-7.

C. Charney,Vigilantes, clientalism and the South African state, pp. 7-8.

M. Kentridge,The unofficial war in Natal: Pietermaritzburg under the knife, pp. 19-20.

These were a group of people fighting for political gains under the commandship of the IFP.

N. Etherington (ed.),Peace, politics and violence in South Africa, pp. 62-63; Keesing's Record of World Events, Death squad allegations, 12 January 1992, p. 38703.

A. Truluck,No blood on our hands, p. 187; C. Charney,Vigilantes, clientalism and the South African state, pp. 11-12.

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