Battleground in the gardens of EdendaleComment on this story
Pietermaritzburg - David Ntombela invites us in from the sniping wind. He is 91 now, his eyes rheumy and his gait pained. Gnarled toes poke out of plastic sandals as he eases into a faux leather couch, and night falls on the hills outside.
From the opposite wall, a portrait of his wife and another of himself as a younger man - stern, assured - gaze back at us.
If not for this image, it would be hard to picture him as a figure once feared throughout Edendale, or as the man deemed accountable by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for gross human rights violations committed under his direction, including “killing, attempted killing, conspiracy to kill, severe ill treatment and arson”.
“When I talk about the Seven Days War, that thing makes me sick, because there were a lot of people who were against me, against my organisation, the IFP. There were a lot of killings, even my son was murdered, even my father was killed,” Ntombela begins.
He dismisses as “lies and propaganda” what we have been told earlier, down in Edendale - that attempts to force neutral residents of the area where he lives to become IFP members, and the persecution of those who refused, were at the root of the conflict.
“No such thing happened.”
He claims he and his followers were “always on our knees, praying to God to save us, help us to solve this problem”.
This is not what the TRC, which Ntombela shunned, found in its final report, which said Ntombela had threatened retribution if buses carrying IFP supporters were stopped from passing through Edendale. When his warning was ignored, his threat became an instant, brutal reality, as thousands of heavily-armed IFP men fell on residents on the lower slopes in the following days, leaving 200 dead and 20 000 displaced.
Gcina Mfeka, now a pastor in the Holy Faith Church, was a leader in the defence of Edendale. He says people forced out of the Vulindlela area when they refused to become IFP members were responsible for stoning buses taking their persecutors to Pietermaritzburg. This is what started the war.
“They used to come down to go to town and we stopped them, we stoned them, and they said, ‘No, we’re sick and tired of being stoned’, so they started the war,” Mfeka says with impassive simplicity. Although he fought for his life and for those around him, he bears no malice.
“Today I can say we are really free, because even the IFP, they are still coming to put up their (election) boards, but no one will touch them. We are just saying we will meet you on the 7th (election day).”
There have been other changes in Edendale - there is electricity, tarred roads, a mall and a hospital.
But Mfeka, an ANC member, is unhappy. There are too many layers of government and people are “eating the government money”.
“It’s this thing; you are in power now, you are in government. You forget about me, yet I was with you in the Struggle.”
He would change his vote to any party that offered to redraft the constitution which he believes is blocking progress.
“If you as a white person have land the size of greater Edendale - you see how many houses are built here – but this land is owned by you only; if someone says ‘No, it’s wrong bru, you can’t run all of this land, let us divide it’, what will you do? You will take me to court. And the court will say: ‘No, no, no, this land belongs to this man’.”
He laughs reassuringly.
“I’m not fighting the white people. I’m not fighting anyone. I’m talking about the system. The system is wrong.”
Blockmaker Siphelele Njilo runs his business from the ruins of a shop in KwaMnyandu that was destroyed in the violence.
Only his parents were home when the IFP men came.
Too old to flee, they hid in the cornfields till nightfall, when Njilo crept up from the valley to salvage what was left of their belongings and lead the couple to safety.
He sees many changes and welcomes the peace that allows former enemies to live together.
“But the wounds are still there, we have the scars. Many people died. It’s not easy, because you don’t know who did what. But we don’t talk about what happened, we just greet one another,” he says.
In Ashdown, one of three flashpoints in the violence, Thabiso Liphuko is “chillaxing” with friends on a Friday evening. The men, teenagers at the time, all fought, their high school marking the frontier.
They remember a Mrs Shai, a teacher who refused to abandon her duties. Each morning she would walk across the battle lines and the fighting would cease until she had passed. The ritual would be repeated in the afternoon.
Liphuko, himself a teacher now, says there are no hard feelings. Many who supported the IFP have realised their differences were artificial, engineered by the apartheid regime.
“At that time they were used by the state, which was using blacks to fight against each other, but now they see they were used,” he says. Now they play soccer against former foes.
In the morning we drive up a rutted track to KwaGezubuso, a former IFP stronghold. Children roam the slopes in little bands while women make their way down to the main road to catch a bus or taxi to town.
Most complain about the road, while acknowledging the benefits of electricity, sanitation and free schooling. Shopkeeper Thembelihle Zondi says the road is “no good”.
“If it’s raining, no bakery van can come, and if someone is sick, no ambulance can come here. If someone dies, no undertakers.”
Kwanele Ngubane finished matric last year but is stuck at home. There’s no money for further studies despite his good marks. Kwanele suspects KwaGezubuso residents are paying for their political allegiance. Pointing to KwaShange across the valley, he says the roads there are all tarred.
“On that side they have RDP houses, all of them. They have a tar road, just because it’s ANC territory. Here, just because it’s IFP, you won’t even find a bus shelter… But there in KwaShange the bus travels through all the roads to pick up people near their houses. Here you have to go down and wait for the bus,” he says.
But he is not an IFP supporter. “For sure, our forefathers want us to vote for the IFP, just because I’m a Zulu, and they believed Buthelezi is a Zulu, the ANC is for Xhosas. Old people believe that. I don’t believe in that. I believe in what a particular party promises… but if you say ‘I’m going to build schools for you, just because you’re a Zulu,’ no. That is not equal,” he says.
He wishes he could start a business but is discouraged by the circumstances. “There is a lack of infrastructure. If I open a car wash, where is the road?”
Down in Edendale, human rights activist Thembi Sibisi stops her car when she spots us talking to young women in a field. A volunteer for Lawyers for Human Rights in the 1990s, she fears there is a malaise “taking the country down” – the subservience of young women and its attendant evils.
She singles out the high rate of teenage pregnancy and of girls dropping out of school.
“There is a lot of misinterpretation of human rights. Of course they have rights, but each and every right has a responsibility attached to it to make the right effective.”
She sees them squandering their freedom, education and future. “We keep on saying ‘the government, the government’, but the question is, what are we doing as the parents? We see the mistakes; what are we doing as the community?”
She founded Challenge for Women to help motivate young boys and girls to take responsibility, “because in many cases the abuse goes with the male figure, who is powerful. This abuse, we as the elderly women, are supporting it in some way, because we are still thinking of the old style, with the apartheid regime, which was embedded in our cultures, that you never say no, if you are a woman, to a man”.