STATE of emergency regulations against the public display of weapons were flaunted in Empangeni yesterday by 15,000 Inkatha Freedom Party marchers as the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission reported that prospects for free and fair elections in the KwaZulu homeland on 26-28 April were grim.
Thousands of marchers openly displayed so-called 'traditional' weapons, such as clubs, sticks, and spears, while police and army troops, backed by armoured vehicles and two helicopters, failed to apply state of emergency rules banning the carrying of such arms.
The rally, called by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party to show popular support for a boycott of the polls, came as a working committee of the Independent Electoral Commission, the KwaZulu homeland authorities and the South African government 'reached a unanimous conclusion that in the current political climate, elections cannot be held in KwaZulu'.
The committee, headed by IEC chairman Johann Kriegler, said that 'political measures' were needed to calm the region's tense climate characterised by a 'high level of political intolerance and fear, as well as large-scale intimidation'. The committee said, however, that it was too soon to judge the impact of the state of emergency declared last week by President F W de Klerk. The IEC was continuing to plan for the elections, and the committee believed the emergency would 'significantly contribute to the performance of its mandate'.
Unless political negotiations and the state of emergency can change the atmosphere, the Electoral Commission appears to have two choices: either delay the elections in KwaZulu, which the African National Congress and the ruling National Party have ruled out, or hold them where possible in Natal province and if necessary re-run them later in the year.
Full use of the emergency regulations and South African Defence Force firepower depend on the outcome of a scheduled meeting on Friday between Mr de Klerk, the ANC President, Nelson Mandela, Chief Buthelezi, and King Zwelithini. The roadblocks to a democratic political environment in KwaZulu were evident in Empangeni yesterday. The marchers, many of whom wore T-shirts which said 'Democracy means freedom to choose', tore down campaign posters of the ruling National Party and the ANC, which is widely expected to win the polls.
'We will make sure the state of emergency does not work in Natal/KwaZulu as long as we live,' the Inkatha Youth Brigade spokesman Zenzele Phakathi declared while standing atop an armoured vehicle of the police's paramilitary Internal Stability Unit, which was supposed to enforce the state of emergency regulations.
'If the IEC makes it possible to force the installation of polling booths in our areas before our demands are met,' said a KwaZulu Legislative Assembly member, Blessed Gwala, 'I am afraid people will use even their teeth to tear them down.'
The display of 'traditional' weapons, while far more modest than at typical Inkatha rallies, indicated that the state of emergency so far has lacked teeth. Only 1,200 soldiers have been deployed in Natal since last week, and so far with little effect.
The current death rate is about 15 people per day.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies