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S. Africa Declares State of Emergency in Natal Province : Violence: De Klerk sends troops into Zulu-dominated region, where Chief Buthelezi opposes this month's national all-race elections. Mandela applauds crackdown.

April 01, 1994|BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — In a desperate bid to quell spiraling pre-election violence, the government declared a sweeping state of emergency in Zulu-dominated Natal province Thursday and ordered a significant military force deployed to ensure that balloting is possible in the strife-torn region.

It is South Africa's first state of emergency since President Frederik W. de Klerk lifted far harsher nationwide emergency regulations in 1990 at the start of his dramatic campaign to end the legalized oppression of blacks under apartheid and usher in parliamentary democracy and black majority rule.

But the crackdown makes a confrontation almost inevitable with defiant Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the only black homeland leader who still opposes the nation's first all-race elections, to be held this month. His Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party has sworn to boycott the vote, ignore the new constitution and resist the new post-apartheid government.

Announcing the decision at a news conference in Pretoria, De Klerk urged the increasingly tense nation to "remain very, very calm." Flanked by his defense minister and military chiefs, he added: "We are in control. There is no need to panic."

He cited reports of panic buying of food and gasoline in Johannesburg and other cities "almost as if we were going into a state of siege."

The military later announced that at least 500 paratroopers and infantry soldiers will be deployed this weekend in the embattled eastern province, including the scattered areas within it that form the self-governing tribal homeland of KwaZulu. Natal is one of four provinces in South Africa.

The emergency gives police enhanced power to ban protests, detain suspects without trial, order curfews and seize weapons. Political meetings or demonstrations will be allowed only with permission from a magistrate, and the KwaZulu police controlled by Buthelezi will be confined to barracks.

Buthelezi called the decree "humiliating" and warned that the estimated 7 million Zulus, the country's largest ethnic group, would "see it as an invasion" if South African soldiers and tanks moved into their traditional stronghold.

Buthelezi showed no signs of backing down, insisting that the partial suspension of civil rights only proves his point that his political enemies are determined to crush Zulu culture. He repeated his demand that elections be delayed until international mediators can adjudicate his demands for an autonomous Zulu state and restoration of a long-defunct Zulu kingdom.

"Everything that is happening now completely justifies our stand and vindicates us," he said. "We're being coerced through the barrel of a gun. We're starting another chapter of oppression."

But Nelson Mandela, who is expected to become South Africa's first black president after the April 26-28 elections, applauded the crackdown.

"Today's action has one purpose--to stem the tide of violence which threatens to engulf us all," Mandela told a news conference in Johannesburg, where a chaotic Zulu protest march Monday resulted in violence that killed 53 people in the city and townships.

He said the army would be fully mobilized and in "complete control" by early next week across Natal.

Mandela's African National Congress was the target of three emergency decrees imposed by the ruling white minority regime in the 1960s and 1980s to ruthlessly crush black opposition to apartheid. Tens of thousands of people were arrested, including Mandela, who eventually spent 27 years in prison.

The government has used far more limited powers several times in the last four years in localized trouble spots; 11 "unrest areas" were declared Monday, for example, after the bloodshed in Johannesburg.

The army has been used twice in the last month to take over former tribal homelands created under white minority rule. But pacifying the much larger province of Natal may be far more difficult.

It holds about one-fifth the country's 40 million people. And though Buthelezi has no formal army, KwaZulu has a well-armed police force and training camps that have armed thousands of ardent Zulu guerrillas.

Turf wars between local members of Inkatha and the ANC have grown steadily over the last decade, but the violence has exploded since Buthelezi stepped up his anti-election rhetoric. At least 290 people were killed and hundreds were wounded in Natal and KwaZulu in March, a grim new record.

Even as the bloodshed continued, an independent judicial commission revealed last month that rogue police officials had secretly sold rifles, mortars, grenades and other weapons to Inkatha leaders for distribution to anti-ANC death squads.

De Klerk said his action in Natal and KwaZulu is not a takeover.

"Law and order will be maintained, and we will not allow anarchy to develop," he said.

Under the interim constitution adopted last December, KwaZulu and the other homelands created under apartheid will officially cease to exist after the elections. The first black-led government will stop paying for Buthelezi's perks, patronage and power base.

Analysts questioned whether an emergency crackdown is warranted. The independent Human Rights Commission condemned the decree, saying "the emergency has placed a cloud over the legitimacy of the elections."

In meetings this week with election officials, Buthelezi gave half-hearted assurances that voting will be allowed in Inkatha-controlled areas on Election Day. But his followers have begun a brutal campaign of burning homes, stabbing election workers, attacking cars and disrupting ANC rallies.

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