The Presidential Years

History would not have suggested that the situation in Natal would in the 1990s have become one of the main obstacles to the transition to democracy. Armed resistance to colonial intrusion was sustained into the early years of twentieth century. Key figures in the founding of the African National Congress as a movement to unite the majority to attain their democratic rights, Pixley ka Isaka Seme and John Langalibalele Dube, its first president, were from that province. The re-emergence of militant trade unionism in the 1970s and 1980s owed much to the workers of Natal.

But from about 1985, Natal was locked into violent and deadly conflict that was estimated to have taken 20,000 lives over a decade, most of these after 1990.356 Apartheid security forces – police and military intelligence – fomented and perpetrated violence and, according to evidence by various operatives, they gave material and operational support to Inkatha as the party in control of the KwaZulu bantustan. Extensive revelations of these activities were gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in particular, Daluxolo Luthuli, a former member of MK who became a commander of Inkatha hit squads in KwaZulu-Natal after being trained by apartheid security forces provided evidence and insight both in his evidence to the TRC357 and in a book.358 The submission to the TRC. Amnesty Hearings on this matter by Eugene De Kock, who had commanded the Vlakplaas Unit, also provided much evidence.359

The government invested support, resources and its hopes for resisting or limiting democratic change, in the KwaZulu bantustan, only to find itself outflanked as the ANC succeeded in getting virtually all the other bantustans in its camp or neutralised. But, by hanging on to KwaZulu and the IFP almost till the end, the government further isolated Buthelezi.360

As Inkatha mounted pressure to secure its constitutional objectives, with the active support from within the security forces, the violence impacted not only on the province of Natal, but also on the Reef – now Gauteng – especially the East Rand, and parts of what is now Mpumalanga . About a thousand people were killed in the three months before the 1994 election. Buthelezi’s agreement at the last hour to participate in the elections was therefore of critical importance to the transition. It opened the way for a founding election that was relatively peaceful and whose legitimacy was unchallenged.

But the respite proved temporary and it was not long before it was evident that the structures that had been fomenting violence were still in place and active. And the interim constitutional inducements that had brought the IFP into the election – recognition of the King and a promise of international mediation on provincial autonomy – continued to complicate progress both politically and in dealing with the violence. Normalising the situation in KwaZulu-Natal was one of Mandela’s chief preoccupations during his presidential years, engaging his attention in terms of politics, policy and security operations. Without entirely eradicating political violence and the capacity to inflict it, a strategy with several threads succeeded over the years of his term in narrowing the space for it, cutting the umbilical cord that had nurtured the hidden structures. Greater security and freer political activity helped create a climate for the province to define itself as an integral part of the emerging South African nation.