KwaZulu-Natal poll a blow to Buthelezi

Issue 

By Norm Dixon

The results of the twice-delayed KwaZulu-Natal local government elections, held on June 26, were a blow to the Inkatha Freedom Party and its leader, Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi. While the IFP won the largest share of the vote and easily won control of the province's rural councils, it was soundly defeated by the African National Congress in the economically and politically decisive urban areas.

As expected, the IFP triumphed in rural backwaters, scoring 71% of the vote. Pro-Inkatha chiefs dominate these tradition-bound areas with a mixture of patronage and repression. Sixty per cent of KwaZulu-Natal's 3.5 million registered voters live in rural areas. Despite this, the IFP's province-wide support dropped 6% from 1994, to 44.5%. The ANC's total vote improved by 1% to 33%.

The IFP, confident that it had the countryside secured, engaged Margaret Thatcher's campaign advisers to boost its support in the cities but instead lost urban votes. The ANC won approximately 57% of the urban vote, compared to the IFP's 7% and the National Party's 23%. Many white voters swung back to the National and Democratic parties after flirting with the IFP in 1994 (the NP lifted its vote from 11.2% to 12.7% while the DP scored 3.2%).

The ANC won big majorities in the Durban-Pietermaritzburg corridor, KwaZulu-Natal's industrial heartland, as well as every significant town. The ANC won the vital Durban Metro council with almost 50% of its 1.5 million voters, up from 41% in 1994. Durban has a budget of 4.6 billion rand (A$1.1 billion), more than the combined budgets of all the province's other councils.

In Pietermaritzburg, the provincial capital, the ANC with around 66% of the vote won 40 seats, followed by the NP with 12 seats, the DP six and the IFP just one. In the north, the ANC won control of IFP bastions Ladysmith and Newcastle, home of the IFP provincial premier.

The most remarkable failure must be that of the Pan Africanist Congress, whose 1994 vote of 0.7% plummeted to 0.14%. It failed to win a single seat anywhere in the province or score a single rural vote.

Inkatha's rural warlords for many years have met any opposition with violence and intimidation, making free and fair elections impossible. The ANC's rural prospects were further reduced by arrangements which reserved 20% of regional council seats for the overwhelmingly pro-Inkatha amakhosi (chiefs). With another 10% of seats reserved for existing "rate-payers" — mainly conservative white farmers — the ANC had to win over 70% of elected seats to gain a majority.

The overall results add weight to charges that the IFP's 1994 provincial election victory was boosted through widespread violence, intimidation and vote rigging. Although violence escalated following the 1994 vote, the month before the poll and the voting days were largely peaceful after the IFP and ANC provincial leaderships agreed to minimise conflict. More than 30,000 police and soldiers were deployed. At least 14 candidates, mostly ANC, were among the 200 people killed during the election campaign.