The Presidential Years

By the time the sun rose over shell-shocked Umlazi township on Tuesday morning, the political fall-out from a bloody five-day weekend in KwaZulu/Natal was clear.

Concern over the bullets flying around President Mandela had given way to opposition outrage at the president’s angry—and remarkable—threat to withdraw funding to the wayward province.

The allegations of “tyranny” from the Inkatha Freedom Party and the National Party have, however, obscured the context of the president’s warning that his patience had, finally, run out. Continuing violence in the province has resulted in at least 1 000 politically-motivated murders since last year’s general election. The dangerous climate is being fuelled by inflammatory remarks and the confrontation politics of the IFP that threaten local government elections and the stability of the country.

Two week’s ago, IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi called on supporters to “rise and resist the central government”. He also warned that chiefs would not participate in local government elections until the agreement on international mediation was honoured.

Four days after Buthelezi’s fiery remarks, some 15 000 IFP supporters marched through Durban in a counter-Freedom Day march to demand international mediation. Bullets fired from inside the trains ferrying the marchers home left four dead around Umlazi’s ANC-dominated Glebelands hostel.

On Sunday, buses carrying ANC supporters to rallies in the province came under attack. One person died in Mandini and at least four ANC supporters were killed in Nongoma. Drivers of buses chartered to transport ANC members to a rally in rural Embo-Thimuni on Monday morning were threatened and they abandoned the journey. Also on Monday, ANC Northern Natal chairperson Bheki Ntuli’s house and six others were torched in Mtubatuba, only a few months after his 64-year-old mother was shot dead.

By the end of the five-day weekend, at least 21 people had died from political violence in the province, and at least four separate ANC events had faced some form of attack during the party’s first notable local election drive.

It was against these rising tensions and the spectre of a return to last year’s pre-election civil war scenario that Mandela warned that he would not allow a province to use government funds to finance an insurrection against the

Inkatha’s grievances about the ANC reneging on international mediation to resolve the constitutional impasse are turning ominously in this direction. As Mandela told parliament on Wednesday: “I do not believe the constitution is more important than human lives.”

As politicians and commentators donned their morality caps, talking about the withdrawal of basic services to residents of the embattled province if Mandela carried out his threat, Cosatu southern Natal chairman John Zikhali said such a move was not on the cards. If a withdrawal of funds became necessary, Zikhali said, central government would merely take over the administration of the province’s finances, ensuring they could not be misused.

While Mandela’s legal advisor, Fink Haysom, this week declined to comment on whether there was evidence of such misuse of funds in KwaZulu/Natal, the track record of the former IFP-dominated KwaZulu Government indicates the possibility is not far-fetched. Last year the ANC and IFP locked in confrontation several times over the use of homeland government funds to hire buses for IFP political rallies and the purchase of a R33-million jet and its use by IFP leaders for political purposes. And, most importantly, the two parties clashed over the source of funds used to train over 5 000 IFP “self-protection unit” members in the bloody run-up to last year’s poll.

Zikhali pointed out that the two parties have already had a similar clash this year: “The provincial government uses money to call izimbizo (mass gatherings) instead of implementing the Reconstruction and Development Programme,” he said.

Mandela’s spokesman Parks Mankahlana said: “If the government is convinced a province is using money from central government for purposes other that what they are intended for, it can decide to withhold that money.”

With all indications pointing to a major showdown between the province and the Government of National Unity in the months ahead, and with reports from some sources of continued military training seemingly borne out by the consistent appearance of uniformed “self-protection units” at IFP functions, the government will be watching closely for signs of such misuse.

Although the president sought to reassure provinces this week that he had no intention to randomly disempower them, Haysom said ordinary statutes or a State of Emergency would legally empower Mandela to carry out his threat in the event of a revolt.

As Zikhali argues, nowhere in the world have countries shown tolerance for attempts by a province or state to undermine central government. * In Parliament on Wednesday, President Mandela said the recent violence in KwaZulu/Natal was the direct result of Chief Buthelezi’s call on Zulus to “rise against” the central government. “It was not only a statement. That threat is now being implemented in the province of KwaZulu/Natal.”

Referring to criticism of his threat to cut central government funding to KwaZulu/Natal, Mandela said: “Members who have never known about the tradition of human rights or democracy are now giving gratuitous advice to those people who fought hard to bring about democracy in this country.”

Anne Eveleth