Tough talk from ANC's man in Inkatha territory: In Zululand, a defiant Aaron Ndlovu is ready for any conflict to come, writes John Carlin in Empangeni

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The Independent Online
'MAKE my day' is the uncomplicated response of Aaron Ndlovu, the ANC boss in Zululand, to the threats of civil war from his Inkatha neighbour, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Back at the headquarters of the African National Congress in Johannesburg the mood is one of near panic at the prospect of Chief Buthelezi's conservative Zulu supporters ganging up with their allies in the white far right to destroy any hope of democratic elections. It was with images of Bosnia in mind that the organisation's secretary general, Cyril Ramaphosa, said this week that he feared the country would 'drown in blood'.

If there is a war or, as everyone confidently predicts, next year's elections generate what Mr Ramaphosa called unimagined levels of violence, Zululand will be the front line. Chief Buthelezi has made it clear that here is where he will make his last stand. Elsewhere in South Africa, where the ANC is dominant, he enjoys support among a number of whites and a handful of blacks. It is only in Zululand, northern Natal, that he can realistically hope - even if the polls today are against him - to secure an Inkatha outpost.

Which is why Dr Ndlovu, a lecturer in political science in Zululand University, would seem to have more reasons to be anxious than any other ANC leader. If he is, he keeps it well hidden.

A compact man in his mid- forties, 5ft 10in, dark-skinned even for a Zulu - 'Should I ever blush I wouldn't go red, I'd go navy blue' - he has the relaxed air of a Mafia capo who knows no one is going to mess with him because of the firepower of his bodyguards and because of the terrible retribution that would follow if anyone tried. An ironic smile always plays about his lips. His movements are those of man who refuses to be rushed, commanding, master of his universe.

He has little time, he makes clear, for the goings on at 'Shell House', the ANC head office in Johannesburg, 400 miles away. 'It's frustrating. Information leaks like anything there. It's definitely filtering out to our enemies.' The clever idea of Nelson Mandela meeting the Zulu king, proposed recently as a means to defuse Inkatha's proclaimed monopoly on 'Zuluness', came from him, he says.

Some local ANC supporters, exasperated at what they perceive to be his undemocratic style, have criticised him for failing to heed the peace message brought down to Zululand early this year by Walter Sisulu, Thabo Mbeki and other liberation grandees. 'They leave,' his critics say, 'and Ndlovu is back calling people to war.'

' My own outlook,' he says, 'derives from the unique circumstances here. I mean, the Inkatha position is that the ANC is not allowed north of the Tugela River' (the demarcation point for Zululand). In the past, we participated fully in the peace accords. But it never worked out. We miscalculated and the carnage just continued. I felt we should devise another strategy - a strategy to avenge the deaths of our comrades and a squad to protect people from Inkatha. We trained a squad, local guys not MK (the ANC's military wing), and it has repaid us handsomely.'

Who did the training? He smiles. 'Let's say people who had the skill.' In guns? 'Sure. But it was only self-defence units. We impressed on people they should not go on the offensive. They only carry out orders to defend the community.

'Since January we've minimised the Inkatha role. The attacks are no longer by ordinary Inkatha guys - we do not attack them - but by their police, the KwaZulu police. What's happened now is that the KwaZulu police have buried almost as many guys as we have.'

But isn't this balance of terror approach likely to accelerate the rush to civil war? 'Civil war is too big a word,' he laughs. 'That's just a dream.' But what about, with elections due and Chief Buthelezi feeling cornered, a fierce intensification of the killings? This time he smiles, the faint, menacing smile of a man who believes that time is on his side, that in the war of the Zulu bosses he will emerge the winner. 'He'll try. He'll try. He certainly will. But he knows that we are capable of stopping him. He knows that.'