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A history of political violence in KwaShange, Vulindlela district and of its effects on the memories of survivors (1987-2008)

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The political violence and vigilante activities that characterised Natal and Zululand between 1985 and 1996 had numerous causes. The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983 contributed to the rise of vigilantism and political violence. The formation of the Congress of the South African Trade Union (COSATU) in 1985 compounded this situation. Both these movements were known to be sympathetic to the African National Congress (ANC), which was still banned at the time of their formation; hence they had similar objectives to the ANC. During this time, Inkatha was the only strong Black political movement in the country, and particularly in Natal and Zululand. The Inkatha movement and its leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi regarded the formation of the UDF and COSATU in 1985 as a challenge to the hegemony of Inkatha in the region, following his fall-out with the ANC leadership in exile. Local leadership of political movements, namely, UDF and COSATU on one hand and Inkatha on the other, mobilised their support-base and took arms against each other. The lifting of the State of Emergency in 1986 intensified political violence and vigilante activities in the region. The Natal Midlands’ violence saw a high number of deaths and causalities. Local communities as well such as Vulindlela suffered a great deal. Clan faction fights were characteristic of KwaShange in the period 1940s-1970s, but from the late 1980s onwards (especially 1987) political unrest and struggle against the Nationalist apartheid regime changed into conflict between Inkatha and the UDF, which gradually worsened into civil war. In the course of my previous studies in KwaShange I discovered that the violence had impacted upon families and inter-generational relationships. According to some senior residents’ thinking, a number of youths were ill disciplined. Issues of disciplining of youths had obscured the political struggle and violence, making it hard to disentangle them. When researching memories of the violence, I found that persons spoke of different incidents within this struggle period and described their violent nature and how it had impacted on families’ survival, both psychologically and physically. The interviewees kept saying that it was hard to forget the memories engendered by their horrific experiences. The South African Government was accused of secretly provoking acts of violence in Natal and Zululand and was furthermore accused of having sent IFP troops to the Caprivi in Namibia for training in guerrilla combat. The Government later acknowledged this, explaining that the Natal Legislature needed specially trained forces for its officials. The unbanning of political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 saw KwaZulu- Natal entering a new phase of random vigilante activities and violence. The security forces (the South African Police and the South African Defence Force) were accused of supporting IFP vigilantes. All this led to the “Seven Days War” in 1990 in the Midlands, particularly in KwaVulindlela. In KwaShange this violence, from 1986 until 1996, created divisions in families and the community. Many people lost their lives. All efforts to put an end to the violence and vigilantism failed. The announcement that the first democratic election in South Africa was to be held in 1994 triggered more violence in Vulindlela. Exhaustion in the area, and a national climate which promoted peace were elements which eventually brought the conflict to an end. Socially and economically, the area is still experiencing problems. Survivors and generations born during and after the turmoil talk about endless psychological and emotional suffering born during this turmoil. My contention is that trauma experienced as a result of this violence and its consequences influenced the lives of all persons affected by it, and that this was transmitted across generations, through whole families and communities. It must be realized that these people and their families were affected for a long time, and many are still traumatised. The social structure of the community has been affected by it and by implication that of successive generations will also be affected. This study describes and analyses political violence in KwaShange and investigates how it is remembered by the survivors. It also attempts to answer the question of how communities, families and individuals survived these traumatic experiences, how they coped (or failed to cope) with their experiences, both then and fifteen years after the end of violence. By focusing on KwaShange as a case study of political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, I hope to determine what was in play in the province, and find a common pattern underlying the dynamics of the conflicts. Pre-civil war divisions have not, up to the present, been confronted, and these fuelled the political affiliations that were a response to the struggle against the apartheid regime.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2013.


Inkatha Freedom Party., United Democratic Front (South Africa), Political violence--KwaZulu-Natal., Theses--History., KwaZulu-Natal--History.