South African Elections: 'The world is turning upside down'

A STOUT, middle-aged woman dressed only in a red skirt and a white brassiere beat the air with a stick as she watched the mass of 20,000 people marching up a hill and declared in Zulu: 'What can you say when the world is turning upside down?'

Upside down is the way many Zulus in rural Natal province see the world these days as the leaders of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party and their local traditional chiefs, the Amakhosi, repeatedly warn them that this month's general elections in South Africa could mean the end of life as they know it.

At rally after rally in Natal and the KwaZulu homeland it surrounds, the message from Inkatha has been that the elections would mean a victory for Nelson Mande la's African National Congress (ANC), controlled they say by the Xhosa people, and would mean doom for the Zulu Kingdom. King Goodwill Zwelithini made the point on Saturday in an address in Newcastle when he said that each vote cast on election day would be for a central government, which took decision-making powers from the Zulus and placed them in the hands of a 'dictatorial regime'.

The fear of the future at such rallies has been palpable. At the remote northern Natal village of Inkandla on Saturday, Inkatha's chairman for the Transvaal, Themba Khosa, whipped up this concern when he described the 28 March killings of 53 Zulus during a march through Johannesburg. The crowd groaned as Mr Khosa described the shootings. 'Some of them were face down in the street, and the stomachs of others spilled on to the street when we tried to lift them up,' he said. This was the fate awaiting all Zulus, Mr Khosa said, as Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC's armed wing, was preparing to invade the region. 'All Zulus must be ready to die for this country.'

Critics of Inkatha often dismiss such claims as mere attempts by Chief Buthelezi's supporters to justify his decision to boycott this month's elections which, they argue, was motivated by his expected defeat at the polls, even in Natal. But many ordinary Zulus, especially poorly educated ones in the rural areas who live under the authority of the Inkatha-financed Amakhosi chiefs, have taken the message to heart.

President F W de Klerk's declaration of a state of emergency on Natal on 31 March stoked the fears of pro-Inkatha Zulus, the majority of whom live under a semi-feudal system run by the Amakhosi. Last week, the South African Defence Force began a house-to-house disarmament campaign in parts of northern Natal, confiscating handguns and rifles as well as 'traditional' weapons.

'Chief Buthelezi and his majesty King Zwelithini are not wheelbarrows you can push,' said V P Ndlovu, a deputy minister in the KwaZulu homeland government. 'The Zulus are not wheelbarrows to be pushed around.' This sense of injustice permeating the Inkatha campaign against the elections strikes home in isolated areas such as Inkandla, where unemployment is rife. It is fed by a strong feeling that the Zulus have been deliberately left out of the electoral process. Some handwritten cardboard signs at the Inkandla rally said: 'No Zulus, no 27 April elections.'

In Inkandla, those Zulus favouring the ANC are generally more educated than their pro-Inkatha counterparts, products of a cultural divide begun in the 19th century when the Ethalalene Anglican mission was established. Zulus who lived at the mission had a Christian chief, while the remainder lived under the control of the Khanyile chieftaincy, embodied today by Nkosi Mphathesithe Khanyile and his pro-Inkatha son, Mcobeni.

Most pro-ANC residents of Inkandla, including many teachers, businessmen and post-office workers, have been driven out of the area. Residents of the Ethalalene district of Inkandla said they had been warned their homes would

be destroyed.

(Photograph omitted)

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