‘Questions are as great as the evidence’

2010-03-20 00:00

ACCORDING to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), 200 people died and 20 000 were displaced during the Seven-Day War of March 25 to 31, 1990. They were mainly from Ashdown, Caluza, Mpumuza, Gezubuso, KwaShange and KwaMnyandu in the lower Vulindlela and Edendale valleys. There are no figures for those who were injured or disabled. Yet this devastating event was given only a few pages in the final report of the TRC.

There is no doubt why and how it started: retaliation for the stoning of buses on the Edendale Road by United Democratic Front (UDF) supporters. This led to several deaths among Inkatha members returning from a Durban rally on Sunday, March 25, and eventually cut the upper valley off from Pietermaritzburg. But virtually every other aspect of the conflict poses unanswered questions. Some of the stone throwers were already refugees: why had they not been allowed home? Why had the security forces not created a safety corridor for commuters into the city?

Attacks by well-armed men from the upper valley started on the Tuesday at Caluza, where police were seen shooting and teargassing residents. Houses were torched and looted and there was little resistance except for a small counter-attack by the UDF.

By Wednesday, the Edendale Valley was a war zone. After a meeting at Induna David Ntombela’s house at Elandskop, attended by other Inkatha heavyweights, a KwaZulu government official from Ulundi, the SAP riot unit and kitskonstabels, an army of 12 000 swept down the valley. It was accompanied by KwaZulu government trucks with obscured number plates, some of them carrying petrol for arsonists.

The TRC report records Ntombela directing attacks and instructing the riot squad not to intervene.

Looted goods were taken to his house in police vehicles together with stolen cattle. At the TRC hearings, riot unit member William Harrington confirmed police and kitskonstabel involvement.

Attacks continued on the Thursday. The police, who had done nothing about the mayhem, tear-gassed a peaceful protest match by women. The violence petered out over the weekend.

Whatever the provocation suffered by Inkatha members in the upper valley, the response was totally disproportionate and unwarranted. Various descriptions have been used, such as armed invasion and licensed massacre. Murder, arson, wilful damage to property, theft, intimidation and assaults were widespread. Significantly, attacks were specifically directed at houses — public buildings were largely ignored.

The government failed in its most important duty: to protect ordinary, law-abiding people. Police Director Daniel Meyer admitted dereliction of duty, negligence and indifference on the part of the police. The army was held back on the Edendale Road near Pietermaritzburg and deployed in sufficient numbers long after the violence had abated. The TRC found that this was done with the deliberate intention of allowing Inkatha free rein. The authorities offered no assistance in the aftermath of the massacre and help came only from churches, human rights organisations and non-governmental organisations. Why was Edendale not declared a disaster area?

The TRC found that there had been gross human rights violations. It held Ntombela accountable, but named no one else and referred simply to persons unknown. Inkatha was assigned overwhelming responsibility together with the SAP; and the KwaZulu bantustan government and the KwaZulu police were also blamed.

Apart from the TRC and the research of NGOs such as Pacsa, there has been no further investigation of a devastating event that deserved a judicial commission of inquiry. Aside from a few minor cases, there were no prosecutions for serious criminal acts and thus no justice for victims.

The printed record, memories and psychological scars are all that remain. Yet history suggests this was a systematic and well organised act of political cleansing aided and abetted by the government of the day. The number of unanswered questions is as great as the evidence.

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