Zulu leader lives in fear after break with Inkatha

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A barbed wire fence nine feet tall surrounds the rural homestead of Chief Simon Gumede, who has gone from being one of the Zulu people's most respected traditional leaders and a senior official in Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party to a man who fears for his life.

A virtual death sentence fell upon Chief Gumede's head last month after he resigned as Inkatha's deputy secretary-general and president of the Indigenous Rulers of Southern Africa. Three days later his name appeared on a list of a prominent Inkatha members who were alleged to have aligned themselves with the African National Congress. 'It did not come from the ANC,' Chief Gumede, 50, said of the list. 'It was an inside job. Some people tried to tar me with the same brush as the ANC.' Two others named in the document, Prince Petrus Zulu and Thabiso Ngubane, were gunned down, while several more, including Captain Thalent Mhlongo, the police chief in the KwaZulu capital, Ulundi, have received death threats. Still others are in hiding.

The low-level civil war between the ANC and Inkatha, which has been armed and trained by senior South African police officials according to the independent commission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, appears to be worsening in the run-up to general elections next month. Clashes between the ANC and Inkatha have claimed 15,000 lives in the past four years, at least 120 since 18 March.

That was the day that the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, told a rally in Ulundi that he was demanding the restoration of a sovereign Zulu kingdom and was supporting the call by Chief Buthelezi, leader of the KwaZulu government, to boycott the elections on 26-28 April. That position has divided Zulus. 'Tribal leaders are not monolithic, nor are the people monolithic,' Chief Gumede said. 'Three-quarters of the people in this area are Inkatha, but everyone must be allowed to express their divergent views.'

Chief Gumede, a former KwaZulu Minister of Works, was extremely cautious in speaking about his own dilemma, and insisted that had resigned from politics so that he could return to his seven children and 20,000 subjects in the Makasa Tribal area near Hluhluwe, about 150 miles north of Durban. But a simple desire to return home cannot explain that formidable new fence, which Chief Gumede admitted was designed to keep out potential assassins. 'Nobody is safe, really. God is the only one who knows. I don't want to die before my real death comes.'

It was Chief Buthelezi's decision to shun the polls that put severe strains on Inkatha, some of whose leaders, like Chief Gumede, and ordinary members favoured contesting the election. 'I warned them that the failure to participate would mean the ANC would rule KwaZulu,' Chief Gumede said. 'Many of us wanted to participate.'

His reasoning was simple: 'In Africa either you participate in the polls or resort to a coup d'etat,' he said. 'If you don't have a sufficient armoury, the only way is to participate.' Chief Gumede said he did not believe Inkatha had the military wherewithal to resist the South African Defence Force, which has been increasing troop levels in KwaZulu and Natal.

Chances for immediate peace in Natal were dim, Chief Gumede said, though he hoped continued negotiations, such as President F W de Klerk's meeting with Chief Buthelezi in Durban on Saturday, could help to calm the situation. It all depended on Chief Buthelezi. 'Local people will not cause disruption if the KwaZulu government has given instructions to allow a free vote,' he said. 'Disruption is not initiated by local people. Usually people come from outside.'

This is precisely what has happened in the past weeks, according to monitors of the violence in black townships around Durban and smaller towns on the north coast, such as Empangeni. There have been widespread reports of armed young men trained by a white former intelligence agent in new paramilitary units known as the 'five- rand battalion'.

But Chief Gumede said: 'I have no doubt that the elections will go ahead. I don't want to call it a new order, but there will be another order.' Under the new regime the KwaZulu government, and Chief Buthelezi's powers, are scheduled to disappear after the elections. 'Even he himself does not know what will happen to him.'

(Photograph omitted)