This week in 1994: Democracy 25

Reading Time: 3 minutes


We focus on the lifting of the State of Emergency in KwaZulu-Natal. The martial law was imposed on the province on 31 March 1994 following heightened political violence, and was only lifted on 7 September 1994.

The move had been precedented by the killing of five ANC members who had gone to a peace meeting in a hostel in KwaMashu. They were kidnapped at the hostel with two of their comrades who survived the attack.

Four IFP leaders were convicted for the crime.

Watch SAP member Nelson Malinga’s response to the onslaught:

Bloody road to democracy

Then South African President FW De Klerk invoked the State of Emergency at the behest of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), a multiparty body that was established to facilitate the transition to democracy.

The months of March and April 1994 are recorded to have been the most violent in the history of political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, which began in the 1980s.

According to the Human Rights Committee of South Africa in Natal, 429 people died in the province during the last two weeks of March and first two weeks of April.

One incident was the ambush of 15 ANC youth members, 12 of them under the age of 18, in February.

Watch Mandela addressing the media on the KZN violence:

Jostle for control

The violence was a failed bid by the IFP to retain control of the KwaZulu-Natal government and resist efforts by the ANC and its allies to establish support within the homeland.

It is said to have been exacerbated by the South African Police’s (SAP) bias.

The apartheid government also supplied IFP members with weapons.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, probing the unrest in KZN, the police force responded promptly to calls for help in Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) strongholds, while it would cite poor roads and a lack of streetlights for not pitching up whenever African National Congress (ANC) or United Democratic Front (UDF) communities called for assistance.

Police are also reported to have turned a blind eye to IFP members who violated the martial law by publicly brandishing traditional weapons and firearms.

Soldiers also did not conduct weapon searches at locations known to be used as attack bases nor did they conduct preventative arrests of people known to be inclined to kill or organise political hits.

The intent is said to have been to destabilise black communities at national level.

While that didn’t materialise – the conflict did spill over to Ekurhuleni townships of Katlehong and Thokoza, where at least 3 000 people are believed to have been killed between 1990 and 1994.

Many others remain unaccounted for.

Watch the IFP’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s reaction to the State of Emergency:

Volatile region 

Between 1987 and 1990 alone, more than 3 000 people were allegedly killed in the KwaZulu-Natal killing fields.

The conflict intensified during the four years of negotiations for a transition to democratic rule.

It almost descended into an all-out civil war in the last months before South Africa’s historic elections in April 1994, significantly disrupting the process.

However, the IFP’s decision to take part in the poll after last-minute negotiations reduced the violence dramatically. The polls proceeded without incident and the party won the provincial leadership contest.

The State of Emergency was lifted on 7 September 1994.

More than 10 000 people in total were killed in the bloodshed and thousands others displaced.

While the violence continued at a reduced level since April 1994, the province remains a highly contested region and quite volatile.