The Presidential Years

Statistics show that most deaths in KwaZulu- Natal are caused by weapons other than guns, writes Ann Eveleth

Police statistics for violent deaths in KwaZulu-Natal are in stark contrast to Inkatha Freedom Party Premier Frank Mdlalose’s claims last week that most victims “are killed by bullets that come from guns, not by spears or knobkerries”.

Nearly 60% of all murders investigated by police in the province over the last five years were committed by weapons other than firearms. These statistics were provided by the South African Police Services.

In 1991, “other weapons” accounted for 69% of the 5 138 murders in the province. In 1992, that ratio fell to 62,5% of 5 290 murders; 1993 to 56,5% of 5 633; 1994 to 50% of 5 731; and just last year dropped under half to 47% of 2 492 murders investigated by the SAPS.

The IFP was furious when central government announced nearly two weeks ago that dangerous weapons, including those the party regards as “traditional”, would be banned from public places in 17 magisterial districts in the province. IFP spokesperson Ed Tillet equated the ban to the “psychological emasculation of Zulu men”.

African National Congress KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson on safety and security Bheki Cele rejected Tillet’s claim: “I am a Zulu and I can tell you that in terms of Zulu history, these are not cultural weapons. They are weapons of war. If you go to any traditional ceremony, such as a wedding, in rural KwaZulu- Natal, you will not find spears,” said Cele.

Cele said the use of spears as “weapons of war” could be traced back to King Shaka, who had invented a shorter spear to allow his amabutho (warriors) to get closer to their enemy.

Tillet suggested last week, however, that the government’s ban could be challenged in the Constitutional Court. In what must be a bitter irony for the IFP, both Constitutional Court president Arthur Chaskalson and Judge John Didcott have already played a central role in the legal history of “cultural weapons”.

University of Natal social-anthropologist Mary de Haas pointed out that Didcott had ruled in favour of a 1990 court challenge—- argued by Chaskalson on behalf of the Durban Legal Resources Centre for Sotho-speaking Natal resident Lechesa Tsenoli—- to then-state president FW de Klerk’s attempted amendment to the Natal Code.

The code—- enacted as legislation by the provincial government as far back as 1891—- made it an offence for any black person to carry “an assegai, swordstick, battle axe, stick shod with iron, staff or sharp-pointed stick or any other dangerous weapon”.

De Klerk’s amendment—- signed against the backdrop of a deepening civil war—- would have enabled anyone “able to prove that he had the bona fide intention to carry such dangerous weapons in accordance with traditional Zulu usages, customs or religions”, to carry so-called “traditional weapons”.

Chaskalson argued that the amendments were discriminatory as they applied only to Zulus, while the code applied to all blacks in the province, De Haas explained.

De Haas said “The NP government simply refused to implement the code after the ruling, arguing that to do so would aggravate violence.”

Cele claimed some police officials in the province still appeared reluctant to implement the ban. Mdlalose, who is also the MEC for safety and security—- has vowed to defy the ban.

Staff Reporter