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15 die in Natal election attack

FIFTEEN young Zulu supporters of the African National Congress were massacred just after midnight yesterday, 11 of them in their beds, because the they planned to teach local people how to vote in preparation for South Africa's first democratic elections in April, writes John Carlin.

Four gunmen suspected of being aligned to Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party burst into a hut in a village in southern Natal, speared some sleeping youths and fired on others with automatic rifles. Three died outside the hut attempting to escape. The police said that some of the youths had died from stab wounds, and two more were seriously wounded.

The attack came hours before Chief Buthelezi reiterated his determination not to take part in the elections. Earlier in the week he rejected a series of dramatic constitutional concessions made by Nelson Mandela, the ANC president.

Only a week ago the Inkatha leader, who has always portrayed himself as a champion of the black liberation struggle, had entreated his supporters to do battle against the ANC, the certain winners of the elections. 'We must defend and fight back,' he declared.

Yesterday's attack was an indication that the four men who carried out the midnight massacre had taken him at his word. The area where the killings took place had been quiet in recent months.

Until two weeks ago, the same was said about the Natal town of Newcastle, before gunmen went on the rampage in an ANC area killing 12 people. And last month in northern Natal the house of a Zulu chief loyal to the ANC was also attacked, leaving 11 people dead.

The fear in Natal, where the Zulu population has been engaged in a low-level civil war for the past eight years, is that yesterday's massacre was a taste of things to come.

Natal, within whose borders lies the Inkatha fiefdom of KwaZulu, is the only part of the country where Chief Buthelezi commands significant support. None the less, the polls have indicated that the majority of Zulus will vote for the ANC and give Mr Mandela's party a clear majority, both nationally and in the election for the Natal provincial parliament.