Things fall apart

2009-07-02 00:00

IN Greytown, where several councillors and civilians have been brutally murdered in the space of a month, allegedly in political­ly-linked violence, Inkatha Freedom Party and African National Congress leaders should be sitting down to talks to put an end to hostilities — before things get even more out of hand.

No one can have forgotten that between 1985 and 1998, thousands of people lost their lives or were injured because of political violence in the province, which was largely a result of antagonism between the ANC and the IFP. And the consequences of that violence didn’t end with physical injuries or deaths. Hundreds of innocent people were rendered homeless after being forced to flee their homes, seeking refuge in forests, bushes or the homes of relatives. The lives of thousands of children were turned upside down by a politic­al war they knew nothing about.

Pietermaritzburg, Estcourt, Greytown and Richmond were among those areas hardest hit by political violence in the midlands, although the northern and southern KwaZulu-Natal regions had their share of the bloody war.

In most areas where violence reigned, a third force, supported by police, was believed to be fuelling the mayhem. Visiting those areas today, you still hear stories about the horror that pitted neighbours, relatives and friends against one another. That’s quite a legacy.

What did we learn from all that violence?

If recent events in Greytown are anything to go by, nothing.

Between May 25 and June 25, three councillors, two from the IFP and one from the ANC, were killed. In the same period, another IFP councillor was shot and wounded while driving home. In Entembisweni, just outside Greytown, members of the Sikhakhane family, who are affiliated to the ANC, were killed. They included a 74-year-old grandmother, a teenager and four-year-old baby girl. Mbongeni Sikhakhane was injured and taken to hospital. And just last Friday, an IFP member was shot and killed, and his friend injured in Entembisweni in another shooting believed to be politically motivated.

My visit to Greytown on Friday to attend an IFP march did little to allay my concerns around the spiral of violence. While IFP leaders and, earlier in the day, ANC leaders, called for calm, angry supporters were calling for vengeance and singing songs that expressed their willingness to fight.

The real reasons behind the tit-for-tat violence are difficult to pinpoint, with both parties giving different versions of events.

The IFP claims that political intolerance which escalated to violence began when the party was refused entry by ANC supporters into the township of Nhlalakahle to campaign ahead of the April 22 elections. The IFP said its delegation was pelted with stones and insulted. The ANC puts it down to sour grapes over their overwhelming electoral victory.

Whatever the source of the current conflict, these two parties need to smoke the peace pipe — soon — before more people lose their lives. Now action must be taken by regional, provincial and national leaders of both the parties. Leaving the matter to be addresse­d at a regional level alone will yield few results and the faceless AK47, nine-millimetre-carrying killers will continue the terrorist spree that has gripped Greytown.

Do any of our leaders want to relive the horrors that ravaged the midlands and the rest of the province? I’d like to think not, particularly considering the past effor­ts by both parties to end the conflict of the eighties and nineties.

If nothing else, an escalation of the conflict into a full-blown mini civil war will spell a public relations nightmare for our country, what with the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup around the corner. And South Africans in general are fed up with crime. Period.

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