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A call for peace

Death, destruction and grief… We have seen and heard little else on the Reef forthe last three months. What are the causes? What are the solutions?

Isaac Zwane has not slept in Diepkloof hostel where he lives in Soweto since the day that the violence on the Reef began. “I can’t go back there,” he says. “I have seen with my own eyes the violence of these men. They killed one of my room mates in cold-blood inside the very room that we share.”

Isaac Zwane is not the real name of this hostel dweller. Like all the hostel dwellers we interviewed, none of them would let us take their photo or use their real name. The reason — fear.

There is good reason to be afraid. Since the violence began over three months ago, at least 750 people have been killed in townships such as Sebokeng, Thokoza, Katlehong, Kagiso, Vosloorus, Tembisa and Soweto.

The deaths have been some of the ugliest in South Africa’s history — people have been necklaced, hacked to death with pangas, beaten, clubbed, knifed or shot.

The dead include hostel dwellers, who have been killed by fellow hostel dwellers; township residents killed by hostel dwellers and hostel dwellers killed by township residents. They include ANC supporters, Inkatha supporters and people who do not belong to any organisation. What are the causes of the violence? Why did it start? And, equally important, how will it end?


It has been said, especially in newspapers, that this is a “war” between Zulus and Xhosas. Is this really true? We asked Graeme Simpson, a researcher who works for the Project for the Study of Violence at the University of the Witwatersrand.

“In my opinion, to say that the cause of the violence is tribalism is to miss the point,” he said. “The violence is caused by two main reasons, political conflict and the hostel system.

“However, it is not true to say that tribalism plays no part. After all, the apartheid system was based on dividing people into different groups. The apartheid regime has been telling people for over 40 years that a Zulu cannot live side by side with a Sotho, and a white cannot live peacefully with a black. Some people believe this. That is why it is our duty to talk, not only of a non-racial future South Africa, but a non-ethnic country as well.”

Lucas Nkosi, a hostel dweller, agrees and puts forward this argument. “If it was a Zulu-Xhosa war, then why aren’t the Zulu families in the townships fighting the Xhosa families in the townships? Also, there is much violence in Natal, where the fighting is between Zulu and Zulu. How can you say that is tribalism?”

We asked Simpson to explain what he means when he says the violence is political. He explained it this way: “The violence may have started with Inkatha’s recruitment policy. After February 2, when the ANC and the PAC were unbanned, Inkatha’s weaknesses as an organisation began to show. It is a regionally based organisation with a membership based on ethnicity. The ANC, on the other hand, is a nation-wide organisation. Its members come from all of South Africa’s people.

“Now, it has been shown that Inkatha does not have much support in the PWV area. In two surveys done by two different marketing groups among black township dwellers, Inkatha got poor results. In the one survey, Buthelezi got only 2% support as a leader, while Mandela received 84%. In the other survey, the researchers found that not only was there little support for Inkatha, but there was also much resentment against the organisation.”

Simpson believes that because of Inkatha’s need to show that it has support, it started recruiting members. The hostels are an especially good place to look for new members because there are so many people squashed into one area. In the PWV area alone, over 160 000 men live in hostels.

But the way Inkatha recruits is disturbing. One hostel dweller told us: “I can’t sleep at the hostel because I am a Zulu but I do not want to join Inkatha. But if I don’t join, I will be killed…”

In Natal, it is said that Inkatha uses forced recruitment as its method of gaining new membership. People are allegedly forced to join the organisation if they want to carry on teaching, get a house or even go to school. And Inkatha controls the Kwa Zulu government which backs it up.


But another group is emerging as the cause of the violence. This is a “third force”. Andrew Mapheto, an ANC regional organiser, believes that this “third force” is driving the violence. In an article in Work in Progress magazine, he wrote: “Generally speaking, what seems to happen is that special squads of killers or provocateurs move into a township or hostel, cause friction and then move away……It is clear that there is a sinister and organised plan behind this violence.”

An ANC pamphlet agrees with this view. It says that the attacks have been carried out by gangs of well-trained killers who are “linked to the special forces of the SADF”. White men in black masks have been seen on at least four occasions where people were killed, including at the Jeppe Station massacre.

The pamphlet says that the attacks are similar to those that have been carried out in Angola and Mozambique. There are rumours of Renamo bandits and Koevoet members being involved in the violence.

Simpson agrees that the only people who have an interest in seeing that the violence continues, is this “third force”. “The other parties, like the ANC, Inkatha and the Nationalist Party, are all being hurt by the “war”, he says. “But the right-wing are against negotiations and against a democratic South Africa with majority rule. Their aim is to destabilise the country.”

But there is growing evidence that it is not only whites who are part of a “third force”. Black people, who do not belong to either Inkatha or the ANC, are said to be hiring themselves for assassinations for as little as R50. Who is hiring them?


But there is another major reason for the violence, one that all the hostel dwellers we spoke to put at the top of their list — the hostels themselves and the living conditions in them.

As the writer Mtutuzeli Matshoba wrote: “Every man is born with a certain amount of pride in his humanity. But I have come to believe that this pride is only a mortal thing, and that there are many ways to destroy it. One way is to take a man and place him in a Soweto hostel.”

John Radebe, who lives in Diepkloof Hostel, explains: “We live with sixteen people to one room. The rooms are dirty. Everybody plays his radio at the same time — in a different language! The noise is terrible. The lights are left on until the early hours of the morning, while some people want to sleep. The bathrooms are dirty, they have no toilet doors or shower doors. There is no privacy.

“We are without our women and children. This is bad because it encourages us to fight. When the women are there, they stop you from fighting. You have to think about your responsibilities.”

Another worker told us he felt about living in a hostel: “We are like caged bulls in a kraal. If a bull is caged, one day it will break the kraal fence and destroy whoever is in its way. We have lived like this for many years…”

He continued: “You know, if a man is near his family, he controls himself and doesn’t do things that his wife may not like. Here we are men-only and there is nobody to keep us in check. There is no-one here to ask you: But what about the children?”

Simpson agrees that the living conditions are one of the main causes of the violence. He added: “Another problem is that the hostels are isolated from the communities. The hostel dwellers are not really part of a community. That is why there is sometimes tension between them and the township residents.”

This tension has been present a long time. In August 1976, the first clash occurred in Soweto. Township residents had called a stayaway and the hostel dwellers, who did not know about it, attacked. Many people were killed, and had their property damaged or looted.

Elvis Mbatha, another hostel dweller, told us that when he goes drinking at a shebeen, he never tells the other drinkers that he lives in a hostel. “I know what the reaction will be,” he says.


So what are the answers? How will the violence stop?

There have been many calls for Nelson Mandela, the ANC’s deputy-president, to meet with Gatsha Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party. Will it help if the two leaders meet?

Simpson has this to say: “It may help in the short term. Buthelezi’s pride may be restored. But there is the danger of the two leaders meeting, and nothing changing.”

Simpson believes that in order for peace to be restored, we need political solutions — in other words, elections for a democratic, non-racial and non- ethnic South Africa. He also believes that we need more democratized policing — in other words, a police force where civilians have some say. But most importantly, he believes that local level leadership, like street committees, need to be built up again and become strong.

These were destroyed by the apartheid regime.

Some people talk about closing the hostels. Still others say that they should be turned into housing for families. One thing is clear — the hostels cannot stay as they are. Changes have to be made urgently — and they must be made after consultation with the hostel dwellers and township residents.

But finally, perhaps the best solution is tolerance and respect for our fellow men and women. We must all learn to forgive, to agree to disagree, and most importantly, to allow others to hold different views to ourselves.

To quote the great American leader, Martin Luther King: “If we allow the law of an eye for an eye to rule us, we will be left with blind people only…..”


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