ANC-Inkatha rivalry ruins homes, lives


November 16, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

KATLEHONG, South Africa -- "They say there is violence here," said Jeff Sibiya. "This isn't violence. This is war."

The soft-spoken 27-year-old member of the Inkatha Freedom Party was talking as he escorted a truck filled with 1,500 packages of food and supplies, a relief shipment for one of the hostels in this troubled black township near Johannesburg.

Newspapers here dutifully report the daily deaths in the townships of the East Rand as if they were the scores of rugby matches. Big cities in the United States are horrified when the murder rate tops one a day, but these townships of a few hundred thousand regularly see four or five deaths on a weekday, with 20 or more not uncommon over a weekend. The police roam the streets every morning, picking up the bodies.

Even as negotiators put the finishing touches on an interim constitution for a post-apartheid South Africa, violence continues unabated, often flaring up apparently in response to developments at the talks. Most think it will only increase before the country's first nonracial election, set for April 27. What will happen after that is anybody's guess.

Little left to destroy

Not that there's much left to destroy. Basically, Katlehong resembles an American inner-city neighborhood that has been totally taken over by gangs.

But it's as if the gangs were named the Republicans and Democrats and come complete with resonance on the national political stage. The gangs in Katlehong and neighboring Tokoza claim allegiance either to the African National Congress (ANC) or the Inkatha Freedom Party.

As with gangs everywhere, members display the appropriate colors, sometimes in the form of a membership card that must be produced on demand. Get caught on the turf of the rival gang and you can easily wind up a statistic in tomorrow's newspaper.

As an Inkatha representative on the local Peace Committee, Mr. Sibiya avoids the finger-pointing as much as possible as he tries to help defuse the crises that arise.

Inkatha is a Zulu-based organization whose leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, is boycotting the constitutional negotiations, joining right-wing whites in holding out for more local autonomy. Mr. Buthelezi has said that an election in April would lead to civil war.

The ANC, led by Nelson Mandela, is fully behind the talks and the elections, confident of victory at the polls, certainly nationwide, and probably in all of the country's regions.

But the fight between these organizations is not just over the constitution and elections. It goes back close to a decade to when Inkatha began resorting to violence to maintain its hegemony in Natal and gain a foothold in townships near Johannesburg; to when the then-banned ANC used intimidation to gain cooperation with its political tactics of boycotts and stayaways and sometimes sanctioned gruesome executions.

Inkatha members in the townships tend to live in hostels, dormitory-like accommodations built to house male migrant workers, most of them Zulus from Natal, that have become permanent residences, in some cases for entire families.

ANC members tend to live in the other parts of the townships, urban locations that long have provided the anti-apartheid organization with its base.

Hardened attitudes

Over the years, attitudes have hardened. There have been so many killings and attacks that the grudges now go deep. It's dry kindling that easily can turn into an inferno.

Though the East Rand has been wracked by violence for over three years, much of the current trouble started in May when shots were fired during an ANC march past Tokoza hostel.

Did hostel residents fire on marchers? Did marchers fire on the hostel? Did police start the firing, unprovoked? It is rare indeed that such questions are ever answered with finality.

Whatever the initial cause, that attack, in which 13 people died, set in motion the series of events that have turned Katlehong and Tokoza into a war zone.

The streets are littered with barricades manned most nights by Self Defense Units made up of ANC-aligned youth, the "comrades," who say they are protecting their homes in the way the police never do, stopping cars, on the lookout for suspicious characters.

The comrades make the township a no-go zone for hostel residents who stare out suspiciously from their surrounded enclaves. Areas around the hostels have become no-go zones for non-Zulus.

In some cases, people living near hostels have been forced out of houses which were then taken over by Inkatha sympathizers. In other cases, Zulu-speakers have been forced out of their township houses and have sought refuge either in the hostel or in the homes that the hostel controls.

Areas in the middle, those that have been battlegrounds, are wastelands, littered with burned-out houses and the remains of barricades.

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