While the rest of the country is obsessed with the ravages of a crime explosion, KwaZulu-Natal is caught in a bloody cycle of political violence pitting Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) against its rivals in the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Tuesday night's killings took place in the Mvutshini area on the KwaZulu- Natal south coast. Gunmen first attacked the home of an 80-year-old woman, shooting her dead. They then moved to a nearby village and set a hut on fire. One of the victims, a woman, was shot. The rest inside, four of them children, died in the blaze.
"The motive appears to be political because the nine victims were ANC followers and this attack is linked to the Inkatha and ANC conflict in this area, which has been going on for a long time," Superintendent Herman Fourie, a local police official, said.
Both the ANC and Inkatha condemned the killings and said the attacks were the work of those who opposed peace.
However, the ANC spokesman in the area where the attacks occurred pointed a finger at Inkatha. "The indications are the attackers were from the IFP," Ravi Pillay said. But he conceded that the attackers could have been third-party provocateurs.
An IFP member of parliament, Velaphi Ndlovu, said he believed there was a "third group" fanning violence in the south coast area, killing ANC and IFP members in the hope of sparking a wider conflict.
The south coast was the scene of two gruesome attacks on two families last Friday. In all gunmen killed 10 people, including a baby. This time the victims were all IFP supporters.
Those killings came just hours after President Mandela and Chief Buthelezi met in Durban and announced that they would soon launch an initiative to end the violence in KwaZulu-Natal. "Violence in this province is of such a magnitude that it is a matter of concern to [Mr Buthelezi] and myself," the President said on Friday. "It is our duty to ensure we work together to put an end to violence," he added.
Human rights monitors have said that violence in the province has actually been decreasing recently. The independent Human Rights Committee said that 37 people died in political violence in November, the lowest monthly figure for five years.
Other observers do not place too much faith in those figures, saying that outstanding political differences between the ANC and the IFP ensure that the province will remain a tinderbox. Local elections in March are likely to intensify the killings.
According to Steven Friedman, the director of the Centre for Policy Studies, an examination of last year's election results shows that polls in KwaZulu- Natal have nothing to do with voter choice: "They are about territory.''
"The province's recent history shows that control of territory is usually achieved by force,'' he added. "So if the parties fight a vigorous election campaign, they are unlikely to rely on posters and door-to-door canvassing alone."Reuse content