'The people are feeling a great deal of fear because the army is here,' said B I Zulu, the strongly pro-Inkatha chief in the Gezinsila township outside Eshowe. 'They fear they are being forced into elections they do not want.'
The army units in Eshowe, consisting of 600 mainly white reservists who arrived in a big convoy of tanks and armoured troop carriers on Thursday, geared up yesterday to launch the first major attempt to halt the low-level civil war between Inkatha and the African National Congress.
Troop strength has reached 3,000 in Natal, but SADF spokesmen have said they expect a far bigger contingent to arrive in the next week. The fighting has claimed at least 133 lives since 31 March, when President F W de Klerk declared a state of emergency in Natal province and the KwaZulu 'homeland' it surrounds.
Up to 2,000 civilians fled their homes yesterday around the southern Natal town of Port Shepstone amid a renewed upsurge of fighting there. Gunmen killed five people when they attacked a village at the Izingolweni kraal on Thursday night. Police recovered spent shotgun, AK-47, and other rifle cartridges at the scene. Four people were reported killed on Wednesday in townships north of Durban.
Ironically, these were relatively mild days in Natal: the average daily death-toll has been about 17.
But the mood against the SADF among Inkatha supporters in Natal and in black townships around Johannesburg continues to worsen.
Inkatha accused the SADF of killing an Inkatha youth leader, Jeff Sibiya, 'in cold blood' yesterday during an arms raid on the Buyafuti hostel in Katlehong on the East Rand. 'The army has continued where MK (the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the Nation) and the self-defence units failed - to eliminate the IFP leadership. This is an election war against us,' Inkatha's Transvaal chairman, Temba Khoza, said.
Colonel Chris du Toit, commander of Group 41, said Sibiya was killed during a gunfight sparked when his soldiers came under fire from the hostel-dwellers. The soldiers, who entered Katlehong in January to halt political violence, were searching for weapons, which Col du Toit said had been arriving in the hostels in the past two weeks. The raid netted four AK-47 automatic rifles, ammunition and SADF and police uniforms, he said.
'We know very well they are fighting us because we are Zulus. We have the right to defend ourselves against any enemy,' a local Inkatha leader, Gertrude Mzizi, said. 'Even if we are unarmed and have to use our teeth, we will bite the soldiers.'