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The echoes of guns, violence and open wounds in Zululand during the 1990s

Nelson Mandela and Mangosuthu Buthelezi back in the day. Picture: South Africa

Nelson Mandela and Mangosuthu Buthelezi back in the day. Picture: South Africa

Published Sep 12, 2023


Bhekwayinkosi Manyanga

Perhaps it is important to understand that there is a pre-2000 and post-2000 IFP which, for decades, was under the leadership of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, until he retired from active politics in 2019.

Today, many will remember their loved ones who died under the black-on-black violence that was sponsored by the National Party (apartheid government) and the irrationality of the IFP participation.

Out of the five homelands in South Africa, KwaZulu was the economic hub, with large urban areas and major townships such as Umlazi, KwaMashu, Claremont, Lamontville, Mbalenhle and others.

This made KwaZulu-Natal a different breed, with “two bulls in one kraal” as the ANC penetrated the townships with the IFP entrenched in the rural areas.

At one point, the Zulu nation was singing one tune until 1975, when Inkatha Yenkululeko Yesizwe was formed. Having grown up in Ntuzuma (kwaMashu), I had to be ANC when in the urban areas and IFP in the rural areas.

Visiting our grandfather’s homestead kwaMhlabuyalingana or our parent’s homestead Emacambini (Nyoni next to Mandeni), we had to ensure that we dressed in a certain way, we knew all IFP songs and spoke IsiZulu fluently as people from the township, who were known as “Amaqabane” (comrades), were automatically called ANC or Amadelakufa and they would be brutally beaten or killed.

The same was true in the township, if you dressed a certain way and spoke isiZulu in a deep original language, you were called Inkatha and would be beaten and even killed.

The fight was on both sides even though today it is put as if it was only Inkatha attacking the innocent ANC areas. It was a foolish war that could have been avoided by both sides.

The ANC taught young black activists to hate the IFP. It called them “oxubhangwinya” (brushing your teeth and swallowing instead of spiting), “otheleweni” (to be thrown over the cliff), “oklova” and so on. This was ANC coaching young people to hate and kill the IFP. On the other hand, the IFP hijacked the boys scout movement and made them salute Buthelezi.

We were made to stand up and salute uShenge, of the IFP, as a chief scout even though in our areas and community, we were told he was an enemy.

In the township, many were bullied and killed for being boy scouts, because there was a belief that they may be used by either sides as “spies”.

Back to eNtuzuma, which was neighbour of Elindelane, where there was a shack dwelling led by a man who was known as uShabalala; he was feared by many people, and said to be brutal.

There were times when oqhwashwa (illegally and informally made guns used mostly by the IFP) would sound towards our home when the IFP amabutho would be coming for us, just because we were staying in four-room houses and therefore labelled as ANC.

Our parents voted for the IFP all their lives just because they lived in the apartheid four-room house. By default, they fell under the ANC and were also targeted.

We would run away and sleep in classrooms.

It was during that period that our parents made a decision to take us to the rural eMandeni for safety.

As a result of all of the violence, they took us (their children) to boarding school. I started boarding school before I was even 10 years old; running away from the violence and killings in our community.

This was the life for many young and grown people in KwaZulu-Natal. No one knew if they would wake up the next day.

My first attempt to buy a gun was when I was 13. I wanted to protect myself and my family against anyone who would threaten or harm us.

Thank goodness that plan never came to materialise; I was unable able to get one. I was too young to even know how to use it, but the violence was so bad that you couldn’t sleep peacefully at night.

Let’s not forget about the brutality of the Zulu Police (ZP Yellow police cars). We lost neighbours, friends, bab’omncane and many others during the violence.

But all that is in the past, when there was a war of umbangazwe (fighting for the land).

We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the past and forget the massive atrocities that Buthelezi was fighting against post-2000.

He famously said: “The ANC’s corruptions stinks all the way up to the heavens, to the disgust of God.”

Buthelezi, with his KwaZulu Government (ZG as car registrations) gave us Mangosuthu Technikon, oNgoye University, world-class schools that attracted people from all walks of life and countries including James Nxumalo Agriculture Learning School, Amanzimtoti College, Vukile High School, Vukuzakhe, Sukuma, Mlokothwa, Bhekuzulu and Nkamane.

He opened a bank for black people in the province (iThala Bank) which is still operating. He supported thriving black farmers.

During the devastating floods in 1987, the Zululand Government responded to the damage that my parents’ sugar cane small farm suffered. uShenge, through his government, supported us to rebuild; unlike now where the current government response was disappointing, to say the least.

We can argue that, no so-well-thought-out tactics were used by Buthelezi and his IFP; he wanted progress, unlike the government of the day that has killed many black people through poor health care, poor wages, no service delivery; allowing monopoly to continue economically oppressing native Africans, the Marikana killings, the high murder rate, the high rate of drug addiction due to poor border controls, poor safety and security, and increasing ignorance due to poor education which has increased unemployment, crime and many social ills.

Today, in hindsight, uShenge might have not been wrong in trying to stop the ANC from getting to power. We see the late president Nelson Mandela and the ANC, led by its then “chief negotiator”, the incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa, have neglected and left black people destitute and helpless.

Umntwana wakwaPhindangene might have been right about the ANC being malevolent and that it should not be allowed to govern, but he did it all wrong and for that, he owed many black people an honest apology.

The ANC and its disingenuous leaders have no moral ground to question him. The victims of the 1990s violence are justified to critique him in seeking closure.

We say to the victims, “phephisani”, condolences once more and be healed by the closure of his passing. He tried to do good in other respects; he also caused others a wound that doesn’t heal.

His legacy will always be a catch 22 where some will praise him and others will remember how their loved ones perished during the black-on-black violence orchestrated to divide the Zulu nation.

Shenge Sokalisa wena kaMnyamane kaMnqengelele hamba kahle, its time to rest.

You played your part, whether good or bad; however, you will be remembered as a significant figure kwisizwe saKwaZulu and in South African politics.

As we move forward, sithi Vuka Mzansi Afrika, rise and aim for a better South Africa. A better and progressive country that our late leaders died fighting to see free and liberated.

  • Gift Bhekwayinkosi Manyanga is former FNB EasyPlan chief executive and a business analyst. The views shared here are his own.