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Living under the RAINBOW.

With fresh elections set for May next year, KwaZulu-Natal, traditionally South Africa's most politically divided province, faces a rocky ride.

I was looking forward to the 1994 elections. I wanted to vote and I did," says Nelisiwe Khowane, a domestic worker from Toleni township in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province. "It's good now there is no difference in the colour of your skin as you go about your daily life."

Khowane's positive attitude is typical of many South Africans who have quietly entered the spirit of what Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called "the rainbow nation" -- a vision of a multi-racial and multi-cultural society free from the racism generated by apartheid. Since the 1994 elections, that ideal has been marked by a new holiday in the South African calendar: 16 December -- the National Day of Reconciliation.

The timing of this new holiday is auspicious as it bridges the gap between two violently opposing movements in South African politics. On 16 December 1961, the newly-formed armed wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation"), embarked on the "armed struggle" against the white regime. The first attacks coincided with the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River (1838), a famous Boer (Afrikaner) victory over the Zulu King Dingane. That date became an inspiration for Afrikaner nationalism during apartheid. Today, the divide between African and Afrikaner nationalism is less acute. One of the most public expressions of change has been the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body charged with investigating human rights abuses that took place on all sides during apartheid. The first session of the TRC was held on the Day of Reconciliation in 1995. Televised and hotly debated, the TRC has since contributed to a new national consciousness about the evils committed under apartheid.

Away from the limelight, however, the path to genuine reconciliation has sometimes proved difficult to follow. This has been partly due to a lack of political consensus. The ruling ANC is challenged by smaller parties such as the Inkatha Freedom Party. From its stronghold in KwaZulu-Natal, the IFP has long contested the ANC's status as the principal voice for African liberation. The IFP is a focus for regionally-based Zulu nationalism, which runs contrary to the ANC's concept of a national unitary state. Although the 1996 constitution produced a federal system, the question of how much power should reside with traditional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal has not been fully resolved. One interesting spin-off from Inkatha's desire for devolved government and minority rights is the reorganisation of Afrikaner nationalism around the idea of self-determination as a constitutional right. The Freedom Front, led by General Constand Viljoen, aims to form an Afrikaner state, or volkstaat, within South Africa. Although KwaZulu-Natal holds some historical significance for Afrikaners (because of Blood River), the most likely destination for a new white homeland is in the thinly populated northern Cape. The party has support from a cross-section of Afrikaners, and in the 1994 elections it came fourth in the polls by winning nine seats in the 400-member National Assembly. The ANC, who are opposed to any separatism, won 252 seats.

Critics of the volkstaat highlight the close relationship between Afrikaner nationalism and apartheid. In Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa (Oxford University Press, 1998), the writer Njabulo Ndebele says that Afrikaner culture was guilty of putting the political project of apartheid ahead of social conscience. This, he says, is why many intelligent Afrikaners still clamour for a volkstaat, as if nothing significant has already happened in the last few years, adding that, "they are unable to link the failures of the past with the need for a moral vision which includes others".

Nonetheless, Afrikaners do fear an assault on their cultural identity. This is particularly so in the field of education.

Amajuba High School is an all white secondary school in Newcastle, a small mining town in the north of KwaZulu-Natal. The school takes its name from a famous Boer victory over the British at Majuba Hill. Its motto "vas soos 'n berg" ("steadfast like a mountain") is apt because the school seems to be resisting a racially integrated future. The children are taught in Afrikaans with English as a second language. Zulu -- the language spoken by the majority of the province's population -- is not taught at all.

By contrast, black pupils at the small Kalabasi School in the same region have a very different education. "We are an English medium school, and the other languages we teach are Zulu and Afrikaans," says the principal, Mr MZ Hlomuka. Kalabasi has no running water or electricity, but there is strong sense that the staff are doing all they can to prepare children for a future of integration and opportunity. It is a primary school which feeds racially mixed secondary schools throughout northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Meanwhile, back at Amajuba, the headmaster, Mr Roux, confides that some Afrikaner children are disillusioned and worried about the future, but says that new courses in tourism are being developed to prepare them for a role in a burgeoning local industry.

"The future for Afrikaners within South Africa is a moot point," comments Charles Lloyd, owner of the Charl-Marie Guest House, located at a nearby leisure amenity, the Hattingspruit dam. "Every Afrikaner who wants to survive financially must now become an entrepreneur."

In the past, Afrikaners benefited from a system of job reservations. This meant that it was illegal for a black person to do a skilled job if a white person could fill the post. Today, many Afrikaners who were once employed in government bureaucracy have been made redundant.

Unemployment affects all South Africans. According to current government estimates, it could rise to 37 per cent by the year 2000. The prospects for economic growth, at three per cent per annum, are meagre. In recent months, rising interest rates have hit the value of the national currency resulting in hardship for many families who find themselves poorer by many hundreds of rand each month. In his speech to the South African parliament in July this year, finance minister, Trevor Manuel, summed up the situation. "The sense of impoverishment occasioned by higher interest rates have resulted in all manner of emotions. Anger, frustration, powerlessness and despair all feature strongly amongst these feelings," he said.

The poor economic performance has made the ANC government an easy target for political opponents. "The next elections will prove whether democracy can put down roots in South Africa, and can empower a government capable of solving the country's severe economic problems," said Mangosutho Buthelezi, the IFP President, at the organisation's annual conference in Ulundi. "In many respects I believe that the elections of 1999 are more important and inherently more risky than those we held in 1994."

Indeed, there was very nearly disaster in KwaZulu-Natal in the run-up to the 1994 elections. Snubbed at the negotiating table, the IFP refused to join the electoral process. Demands for greater autonomy, an important issue in the Zulu heartlands, had not been met by the main players at the negotiating table: FW de Klerk's Nationalist government and the ANC. Political faction fighting, which had already killed at least 14,000 people between 1984 and 1994, threatened to engulf the province and even the country too. In addition, a clandestine "third force" operating for the white regime was stoking up violence. Fortunately, an accommodation was reached (the Zulu monarchy was officially recognised), and Buthelezi entered the ring at the last moment. Mandela formed a Government of National Unity, which included Buthelezi as minister of home affairs.

Nevertheless, some issues remain unresolved. The political rivalries between the ANC and the IFP are deep-seated, and expressed in violence in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal such as Gingindlovu, Izingolweni, and Nongoma. "The problem came in the 1970s when the ANC in exile summoned Buthelezi to London to tell him to go on the offensive and lead the revolt against the Boers," explains Hugh Lee, an elected IFP regional secretary. Buthelezi's politics were less radical than those of the ANC command, and he disagreed with them on tactics.

In 1972, he became prime minister of KwaZulu, one of the "self-governing states" set up by the white regime. When the time came for mass resistance to apartheid in the 1980s, Buthelezi's followers were put in a difficult position. "The ANC started turning the screws, their ploy was to make the place ungovernable. Anyone seen to be working with the apartheid system was fair game," adds Lee.

Even so, the intrigues and aggressive rhetoric that have gone hand-in-hand with the violence in KwaZulu-Natal for many years may now be on the wane. The IFP has adopted a more moderate stance in the last few months, looking to gather votes outside its traditional stronghold of KwaZulu; and the senior ANC leader in KwaZulu-Natal, S'bu Ndebele, has said that the forthcoming elections must be flee, fair and without violence -- or they should be not be held at all.

Most people in KwaZulu-Natal appear relaxed about the political situation. The truth is political violence is extremely localised, and outside of the trouble spots it seldom impinges on daily life. Early morning at the Khumolo family umuzi (homestead) at isiPezi northwest of Eshowe, for example, is a picture of normal life -- domestic chores, tending to livestock, getting the children ready for school. The atmosphere in the hills above the sugarcane fields around Eshowe is a far cry from the troubled KwaZulu-Natal presented in the news.

It is also notable how life in contemporary homesteads differs from the image presented in the countless coffee-table books about Zulu culture that are sold in South Africa and abroad. The books are full of colourful details -- traditional architecture, customs and dress. But they present an idealised viewpoint. For example, thatched stone-built rondavels are now a more common sight than the "beehive" huts of historical times, and full traditional regalia is reserved for special occasions -- such as wedding ceremonies. One of the features of apartheid was that it sought to promote "separate development" for Africans, in order to preserve a theoretical "native state". Today, knowing your roots does not mean living in an historical theme park.

By contrast, white people living in rural areas -- especially farmers -- have become less confident about their future since the end of apartheid. Often remotely situated, farmers have begun to fall victim to a series of armed robberies and murders. According to the South African Agricultural Union, about 2,000 farmers have been killed nationwide since 1994. CA Froneman, an Afrikaners farmer from Wasbank in northern KwaZulu-Natal, says that the risk of crime cannot be ignored. "You've got a responsibility to safeguard your family. If we are realistic, we do get an aggressiveness between nations and it's because of the past. There is a hate towards white people."

Black South Africans are generally ambivalent about Afrikaners and white farmers. Earlier this year, however, public anger boiled to the surface at the funeral of Angelina Zwame, a baby girl shot dead by white farmer Nicholas Steyn for allegedly crossing his farmland near Johannesburg. Around 3,000 angry protesters took part in the funeral procession, and a speaker for the Pan-Africanist Congress, Mike Muendane, reportedly told the crowd that it was a dishonour to call South Africa a free country when children could be killed with impunity. He also said that black South Africans were bending over backwards to achieve reconciliation, but were only succeeding in appeasing racists.

There is no disguising the pain inflicted by apartheid, which casts a long shadow in contemporary society and politics. What is interesting is that the new political system is functioning regardless. The ANC have responded to pressure and launched a convention to discuss the crisis of the farm attacks. In KwaZulu-Natal, the IFP have also been sympathetic to farmers security concerns.

Inclusive politics is evidently becoming a hallmark of the new South Africa. And KwaZulu-Natal, long a battleground for competing peoples and ideologies, is no exception. A major reason for the new approach is the 1996 constitution, which contains numerous safeguards and a bill of rights. The constitution is due to become fully binding after the 1999 elections, but it is already contributing to a new national identity. In this respect, the Day of Reconciliation seems much more than symbolic. In many ways, South Africa is already living under the rainbow of democracy.


KwaZulu-Natal consists of what used to be Natal with the ex-homeland of KwaZulu. The seat of the provincial capital was something of an issue following the 1994 election, with the IFP favouring the former KwaZulu capital, Ulundi, and other parties favouring the former Natal capital, Pietermaritzburg. The two cities are currently the joint capitals.

Kwazulu-Natal has a population of 8.8 million. The majority speak Zulu, but English, Afrikaans, Hindi are also spoken. Economic activities include coal mining, sugar cane production, forestry and tourism.

The province is the heartland of the Zulus, a people who have long captured the popular imagination in the West. Until the 18th century, they were one of about 20 Nguni-speaking chiefdoms. In 1816, Shaka, became king of the Mthethwe, a small Zulu tribe, and revolutionised Nguni warfare turning the Zulus into the most aggressive military power black Africa has ever seen. By 1825, large areas were under Shaka's control. At the Battle of Blood River in 1836, thousands of Zulus died at the hands of the Boers. The British and Zulu maintained a tense equilibrium but in 1879 British troops broke the Zulus strength in the bloody Battle of Ulundi.

Chief Mangosutho Buthelezi, is the political leader of today's Zulus. Tracing his lineage from one of the first clans to be incorporated into Shaka's kingdom, Buthelezi has brought back the ceremonies and symbols of the Zulus golden age. The warrior impis, or regiments, march again at IFP rallies, waving their shields and assegais and shouting their war cries.

Today, the Zulus remain a popular tourist attraction, although they are now more likely to be dressed in jeans rather than traditional garb.

David Garner is a freelance journalist based in Hertfordshire.
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Title Annotation:South Africa's multiculturalism
Author:Garner, David
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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