ASK anyone around the Lindelani squatter settlement on the north- east outskirts of Durban about Thomas Mandla Shabalala, and the response is likely to be 'Iyathanda Imali,' Zulu for 'he likes money'.
Mr Shabalala, a former bus conductor, stood for the Natal provincial assembly on the ticket of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. He is regarded by residents of the shantytowns around Durban as the most powerful warlord in the area. 'No activity can happen in this area without Shabalala's consent,' said one long- time resident. 'His constituency are the illiterate squatters of Lindelani, and he runs the place like an old-style mafia boss.'
The settlements are populated not only by Zulus, but by Xhosas and Malawians. 'These are people who have nothing unless they co- operate with Shabalala,' the resident said. 'He is their only future.'
Mr Shabalala arranged to bus thousands of people into Lindelani to vote in last week's elections. Many residents and analysts believed the attitude of warlords such as Mr Shabalala to the outcome of the poll would determine whether the low-level civil war between Inkatha and the African National Congress would end.
The conflict has claimed the lives of 10,000 people in the past decade, and more than 300 since the outgoing president, F W de Klerk, declared a state of emergency in Natal and sent in the army on 31 March.
The ANC and Inkatha were the main contenders in the election race for control of the Natal provincial government, with the ruling National Party expected to finish third on the basis of a strong showing among whites, Coloureds and the 900,000 Indians.
The two strongest candidates for the post of provincial premier, Frank Mdalose of Inkatha and Jacob Zuma of the ANC, pledged to work together no matter who won the election, but divisions run deep between the camps at the grass- roots level.
Besides Lindelani, other potential flashpoints include Eshowe, where Elijah 'Nyawoza' Dlolwane, the former driver of a KwaZulu 'homeland' deputy minister, Prince Gideon Zulu, has assembled a small army of paramilitary units in shacks on the edge of the Gezinsila township. The units were drilled by a former South African police intelligence officer, Phillip Powell, at the Mlaba training camp at Umfolozi, which was raided by police last week.
In the Mandini and Mangete area just north of the Tugela River, witnesses said the powerful pro- Inkatha Nkosi, or chief, K W Mathaba, attempted to intimidate voters by appearing at ballot stations with armed men.
David Ntombela, a warlord from the Pietermaritzburg area, has threatened to challenge the results, alleging widespread rigging by the ANC.
The townships around Durban, Pietermaritzburg, and smaller urban centres such as Eshowe and Empangeni have remained largely peaceful since 19 April, when Chief Buthelezi decided to contest the polls, although 23 people in Natal and the KwaZulu 'homeland' died in violence over the weekend, according to the South African police.
But peace monitors in the townships were increasingly worried yesterday that when the final results were announced, violence could ensue. 'There must be a winner and a loser, and if the winners celebrate in a way that offends the losers, there will be trouble,' said a peace monitor in the Umlazi township, where eight people were murdered at the weekend. 'Reconciliation has not taken hold; we are just beginning a very difficult process.'
Even if Chief Buthelezi - who has repeatedly questioned whether the polls were free and fair - and the ANC accepted the results in Natal, many observers questioned whether they could control their followers. 'Can Inkatha control Shabalala or Ntombela, and can the ANC ensure that Harry Gwala behaves?' asked one peace monitor, referring to the ANC strongman in Pietermaritzburg.
The Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, has urged his subjects to remain calm. 'I wish to appeal to the people of KwaZulu and the rest of South Africa to turn their backs against violence,' he said on state television on Saturday. 'I wish to . . . challenge the people of this country (who) fought and won the battle for political freedom. Let us now join hands and fight and win (the) battles of poverty, disease and ignorance. That is the final attainment of freedom.'
But the instruments of conflict were still in place. Chief Buthelezi's KwaZulu government, which was supposed to disappear after the vote, continued to function in the seat of the KwaZulu legislative assembly, Ulundi. The KwaZulu 'homeland' police, which were supposed to become part of the South African police, continued to operate autonomously.
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