Twice-delayed vote goes ahead peacefully in S. Africa province Feared bloody clash between Inkatha, ANC fails to materialize

June 27, 1996|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

DONNYBROOK, South Africa -- The line of voters that curled out of the elementary school could look across the ridge top and see one of the scars political violence has left on KwaZulu/Natal.

There was the small circular hut that gunmen invaded March 21. Eleven people, including several children, were killed.

Because of the frequency of such incidents in this province, the election to choose local officials had been delayed twice.

When an estimated 3.5 million voters finally went to the polls yesterday, they did so in peace.

Only a few minor incidents were reported on a day that many had feared could have been another of the bloody battles between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress.

Some 15,000 people have been killed in KwaZulu/Natal in a decade of political warfare. Many areas are still forbidden territory for one party or the other, with Inkatha dominating the rural areas and the ANC with strong support in the urban townships.

But recent peace summits between the parties' leaders seem to have had an effect.

By nightfall yesterday, the main concern was that the length of the lines meant that people had to wait hours to cast their votes.

It was not only the new initiatives that brought peace. Some 26,000 police, backed by military units, flooded the province. A heavily armed contingent watched over the long, slow-moving line in Donnybrook.

People here were hopeful. There has been no revenge attack since the March killings, which themselves were revenge for the killing of an Inkatha-aligned chief. But people also were nervous.

"It is bad here," said a 23-year-old man who did not want to give his name. "You cannot move around at night. Now it is OK because we are under the hand of the security forces.

"We hope it will be peaceful after the elections, but we don't know."

The voters looked out over a sweeping vista of grass-covered hills sheltering Zulu settlements.

"People from different places come here," said a 25-year-old woman, blaming outsiders for Donnybrook's problems. "They try to force people to join their parties. They fire at them with guns from buses."

Others told of vans driving through the town at night, loudspeakers blaring the message that if they didn't join a particular party, their houses would be burned and they would be killed.

"The problem is intolerance," Caleb Shelembe, 57, said. "These political parties think if they hurt you, they will make you change your mind.

"It does work. It is only the brave ones who still stand up and talk, who don't change their minds."

Like many in Donnybrook, Shelembe thought that the current change in attitude at the top would have an effect.

"If the leaders come together and send out the word, I think we can all be looking forward to peace," he said. "The followers, they really do what their leaders tell them to do. Their orders come from the top."

Many cases of conflict in KwaZulu/Natal can be traced back to long-standing dispute between families, clans or chiefs that took on political dimensions -- and modern weaponry -- only recently.

But everyone in Donnybrook agreed that the fighting was only about politics. "All these years we stayed together here peacefully," said Shelembe. "There was no problem before."

Inkatha, the party headed by Mangosuthu Buthelezi that appeals to traditional Zulus, is expected to do well in the voting; the results may not be announced until tomorrow.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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