South African Elections: Blood flows in 'happy' township: Battles around a men's hostel reveal the weakness in South Africa's new multi-party peace-keeping force

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THOKOZA means happiness in Zulu. Here and in the neighbouring township of Katlehong, 20 miles south-east of Johannesburg, 1,800 people have died in political violence in the last year. Things quietened down in February when the army moved in but the killing started again this week after the arrival of the National Peace-keeping Force (NPKF).

All the fighting has taken place in Khumalo Street, where 20 people have died and 60 have been wounded in shooting between Inkatha supporters, ANC supporters and the NPKF. The shooting has been at and from Thokoza's single men's hostel, an Inkatha stronghold, on Khumalo Street.

Yesterday home-made barricades blocked the street. The peace deal between the country's top political leaders on Wednesday, based on Inkatha's agreement to take part in next week's election, seemed to have had little impact here. For a while it looked as if the shooting was going to start again. Ten army armoured personnel carriers, packed with white soldiers and guns, were attempting to 'secure', as a major put it, the hostel area. A hundred ANC youths danced around the vehicles, making warlike noises as if, should the soldiers only go away, they would charge through and storm the hostel.

Ordinary people - middle aged men, young mothers - milled about. They were angry at whoever had decided to send in the NPKF, whom they blamed for the re-emergence of the violence.

The NPKF is a multi-party force whose appointed task it is to help ensure free and fair elections. The soldiers were drawn from the South African Defence Force (SADF), the ANC's guerrilla army and the armies of the black 'homelands' of Ciskei, Transkei and Venda. They started their training only at the beginning of the year. Military experts warned that it was impossible to forge a functional peace-keeping force in such a short time.

But last week the Transitional Executive Council instructed that the first experiment in the effectiveness of the NPKF should be conducted in the most volatile part of the country outside Natal province, the East Rand townships of Thokoza and Katlehong.

Last Thursday the NPKF moved in and the army moved out. Gun battles were reported on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, 15 people died. On Wednesday another five.

Nomcibelo Shabangu, a 27-year- old mother of two, lives on Khumalo Street, 200 yards from where the people died. She stood at her gate yesterday glancing nervously down the road. The army had returned the evening before to help stabilise the situation.

Mrs Shabangu was happy the army were back. 'They left and it started up again and now they're back again and so I'm very happy. The SADF are the only people who can sort out the problem here. The NPKF are seen as the enemy by the hostel and so they are fired at by them and that just starts things up again.'

Some of the young ANC 'comrades' had different views. 'SADF shit]' said Sipho. But had they not brought peace to Thokoza? 'Yes. That's true. But they are instruments of the oppressor regime.' And the NPKF? 'They're fine but their commanding officer will not let them go and attack the hostel.'

Madoda Buthelezi, the ANC's political education officer in Thokoza, agreed the SADF had brought peace but he suspected it was just so they could clean up their image.

Nelson Mandela has been urging his supporters in recent weeks to co- operate with the SADF. But Mr Buthelezi has not been listening. Whatever the political leaders agreed, he said, the violence would go on because the conflict over the hostel had nothing to do with voting or not voting. 'The people don't want the hostel. They are like soldiers' camps. They have no families so all they think of is war. We have been killed by these people since 1990 and still no one does anything.'

And the comrades want revenge.

For Jo'burg, read Chicago, page 21

'Swinging' Mandela, page 27

Comments