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South African Elections: Inkatha supporters welcome poll move

THE INKATHA Freedom Party offices in Durban were flooded yesterday with calls from supporters elated with Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's decision to lift the boycott on South Africa's first all-race elections next week. 'We have been deluged by people phoning us and coming to our offices,' said the Inkatha spokesman, Ed Tillet. 'Our people have been yearning to take advantage of the first democratic election.'

While Mr Tillet claimed Chief Buthelezi's turnabout as a victory for the Zulu kingdom, his report confirmed the boycott was an unpopular notion among many living along the dividing line between Inkatha- and African National Congress-controlled zones in urban townships and rural areas of northern Natal. With Inkatha off the ballot, voting would have meant public exposure as a potential ANC supporter, while failing to do so would have indicated sympathy for Inkatha.

But some election campaign observers did not believe one week was long enough to create an atmosphere for free and fair elections. 'I do not really think this will facilitate free expression because the chiefs can still prevent it in their areas,' said Mary de Haas, a peace monitor. 'The situation on the ground is not going to dramatically improve.'

The voting days should be peaceful, with none of the main parties attempting to disrupt them, but the next week could witness an intensification of turf battles in the low- level civil war between Inkatha and the ANC that has claimed an estimated 10,000 lives in the past four years. Since President F W de Klerk declared a state of emergency in Natal and the KwaZulu 'homeland' on 31 March, political violence has claimed the lives of 254 people.

'The immediate tension around the 27 April election has been removed,' Mr Tillet said. 'But it does not mean the removal of the fundamental ideological differences and the causes of the conflict' between Inkatha and the ANC. They don't have control over their members and supporters. Our leaders do.'

In the rural areas, Inkatha's leaders, particularly traditional chiefs, the Amakhosi, have confiscated identity cards to stop people voting. Voter educationalists have risked death in rural areas, where largely illiterate residents form the backbone of Chief Buthelezi's support.

But Mr Tillet said that Inkatha had been conducting its own voter education 'for a long time'.

The threat of violence had forced the Independent Electoral Commission to announce last week that it was cutting the number of voting booths in the province from 1,500 to 900. A better figure would be 750, regional police and army commanders said in Durban on Monday.

Inkatha should be helped by the presence at many pollings stations in the homeland of the KwaZulu police, seen by many as Chief Buthelezi's private army. 'In all of the rural areas, members of the ZP (KwaZulu Police) are seen to be involved in violence,' said Ms Haas. 'It is unacceptable to have them patrolling the polling booths.'

The end of the boycott was expected to remove a burden on many people who wanted to vote but were dissuaded by King Goodwill Zwelithini's suggestion that a Zulu who cast a ballot was not a true Zulu. His strong pro-Inkatha position, many Zulus believed, had soiled the monarchy with Natal's particularly violent brand of party politics.

'There is always tension between the divine and the human in the concept of any kingdom, but the great strength of the monarchy is its remoteness from human affairs,' said Professor Jeff Guy, head of the history department at the University of Natal. 'The King will have the powerful emotional response as long as he remains above it all, and if he enters the political realm, he loses some of it.'

The relationship between Chief Buthelezi and his nephew, King Goodwill, has often been tense. In the 1970s, Chief Buthelezi successfully championed a KwaZulu constitution which limited the king's role to a ceremonial one. When KwaZulu gained 'territorial authority' in 1972, Chief Buthelezi wrote: 'Zulus love their king and it is unthinkable that he should be given executive functions which mean inevitable involvement in politics . . . which would tarnish the royal image.'

The king fled from the Legislative Assembly chamber in the KwaZulu capital, Ulundi, in 1979, during a debate in which he was accused of, among other things, advocating violence to overthrow the homeland government. 'The king is an important power base around which Buthelezi does not want a point of opposition to coalesce,' said Professor Guy.

In recent years, however, Chief Buthelezi attempted to exploit the king for political purposes, culminating in the monarch's effective support for Inkatha's election boycott and his call on 18 March for a sovereign Zulu state. King Goodwill has often referred to Chief Buthelezi, the homeland chief minister, as 'the traditional prime minister to the Zulu nation'.

Key to Chief Buthelezi's decision to contest the polls must have been the imminent disappearance of the KwaZulu homeland, with its system of patronage financed by the South African state and the offer of a paid constitutional monarchy for the king. The spreading violence also threatened his constituency among the small upper class of chiefs, wealthier landowners, new black businessmen, sugar farmers and some professionals.