Archived conflict (updated: February 2002)

The South African conflict was considered at an end when 2001 became the second successive year of fewer than 25 reported deaths due to conflict violence. During 2001 a few violent incidents took place in provincial elections, resulting in at least two reported deaths.



2000 Politically motivated killings persisted in 2000, in spite of a marked reduction in deaths in KwaZulu-Natal and countrywide in the last two years. About 20 people were killed in political violence during the year.

1999 Political and extrajudicial killings remained common in 1999, though the level of political violence in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and countrywide declined. At least 650 people died during the year, less than 1998 estimates.

1998 Political and extrajudicial killings continued in 1998, mostly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Type of Conflict:

State formation

Parties to the Conflict:

1) Government of majority African National Congress (ANC) and minority Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

Internal security is the mandate of the South African Police Service (SAPS) with support from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).The conflict has been most prevalent in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, pitting government supporters against:

2) Supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party, especially in earlier years of the conflict.

3) The United Democratic Movement (UDM), a party formed by former ANC leaders expelled from the party.


In January 1999, UDM leader Sifiso Nkabinde was killed in Richmond, igniting protest and speculation that the killing was sponsored by the ANC or by the “third force” — groups of right-wingers tied to the former apartheid regime’s security forces.


“The UDM — formed as a breakaway from President Nelson Mandela’s ANC after it ousted one of the new party’s key leaders — denies causing the violence (in July in Richmond), saying the ANC is at fault. The UDM is headed in Kwazulu-Natal by Sifiso Nkabinde, who called himself an ANC ‘warlord’ until he was expelled from the party last year amid allegations he spied for the police under apartheid.” [ABC NewsWorld, July 15, 1998]


“South Africa’s governing institutions and society continued to consolidate the democratic transformation initiated by the historic 1994 elections. The Government comprises ministers from the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). …

“The South African Police Service (SAPS) has primary responsibility for internal security, although the Government continues to call on the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) to provide support for the SAPS in internal security situations. The SAPS continued its major restructuring and transformation from a primarily public order security force largely dedicated to enforcing apartheid laws, to a more accountable, community service oriented police force. The SANDF and the newly created SAPS border control and policing unit share responsibility for external security. The civilian authorities maintain effective control of the security forces. However, some members of these forces committed human rights abuses.” [1997 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, South Africa, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, 1998]

Status of the Fighting:

2001 The level of political violence was greatly reduced in 2001, with a few incidents seen in provincial elections.

“The United Democratic Movement maintains the killing of its councillor Mziwomntu Tutuka two weeks ago was politically motivated and linked to the party’s increasing support in Cape Town.” [Weekly Mail & Guardian, September 28, 2001]

2000 Political killings continued during the year, with most of the violence taking place in the lead up to, and during, the December local elections. Supporters and members of the United Democratic Front (UDM) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) bore the brunt of the year’s violence. In November, a group of people disguising as members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) killed five people at Intshanga, KwaZulu-Natal.

“The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal condemns last night’s ruthless killing of people at Intshanga, west of Durban. Six people were shot and five fatally wounded in the area when a group of people masquerading as members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) cordoned off Esidakani area of Intshanga and began random shooting.” [ANC Press Release, November 13, 2000]

1999 Political and extra-judicial killings continued in 1999, though there was a decrease in political violence in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere. The United Democratic Movement (UDM) contributed to the year’s bloodshed. In January, the secretary general of the UDM, Sifiso Nkabinde, was killed and hours later 11 ANC supporters died in what was considered to be a retaliatory attack.

“The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, problems remain in several areas. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses, including killings due to use of excessive force, and there were deaths in police custody. In addition to killings by security forces, there were more than 200 political and extrajudicial killings, but although political violence remained a problem, it was reduced slightly from 1998 levels, both in KwaZulu-Natal and countrywide. Security forces were responsible for torture, excessive use of force during arrest, and other physical abuse.” [1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, South Africa, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, February 25, 2000]

1998 The emergence of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), led by former African National Congress (ANC) members removed from the party after implication in numerous killings, increased tensions, though the extent of fighting in 1998 was similar to that of the previous year.

“The violence in KwaZulu-Natal resulted in hundreds of deaths during the year, and accounted for most of the country’s political killings. Observers predict that killings could increase as political activity increases, party branches are launched, and political rallies held in the period prior to elections in 1999. There are several theories to explain the resurgent violence, including the legacy of ‘warlordism’ that fuels interparty conflict; criminal elements involved in a mafia-like illegal trade in drugs, arms, and wildlife; and a shady ‘third force’ which combines criminal and conservative elements determined to undermine the new political order. Observers warn that a factor underlying and aiding such forces is the fact that the province is yet to be demilitarized and disarmed.” [1998 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, South Africa, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, 1999]

Number of Deaths:


Total: More than 17,000 people have been killed in political violence since 1990.


2001 At least 2 people were reported killed as a result of political violence.

“A woman UDM member was killed in Somora Machel informal settlement, sparking concerns of yet another flare-up of political violence.” [Weekly Guardian & Mail, October 12, 2001]

2000 About 20 people were killed in political violence during the year.

“The United Democratic Movement would demand a special investigation into Tuesday’s shooting in Mandela Park on the East Rand which left six people dead, the party said yesterday … Five of the six people who died in the tragedy, two of them women, were identified as UDM supporters.” [Dispatch Online, December 7, 2000]

1999 At least 650 people died as the result of police action and political and extrajudicial killings in 1999.

“The Government’s Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) investigates deaths in police custody and deaths as a result of police action. The ICD reported 450 deaths as a result of police action between January and November. Of these deaths, 192 occurred while in police custody, and 258 occurred as a result of police action. These figures represented a decrease compared with the estimated 789 deaths as a result of police action that occurred in 1998.” [1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, South Africa, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, 2000]

1998 At least 1,000 people died in the conflict during 1998, a small decrease from the previous year’s total of over 1,200.

“The South Africa Institute for Race Relations, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that follows political and extrajudicial killings, reported 322 politically motivated killings during the first 11 months of the year, most of which occurred in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, compared with 425 for the same period in 1997.” [1998 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, South Africa, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, 1999]

Political Developments:

2001 Political and religious leaders met in September to pledge an end to political violence.

“In September political leaders pledged their support for political tolerance during a meeting under the auspices of Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane.” [Weekly Mail & Guardian, October 12, 2001]

2000 The African National Congress won the December 2000 local elections, taking 59% of the votes compared to 66% in the general election in the previous year.

“South African newspapers expressed broad satisfaction with the conduct of the local elections, but saw the results as a wake-up call for the ruling African National Congress, whose share of the vote slipped to around 59%, from 66% in last year’s general election.” [BBC News, December 9, 2000]

1999 A month before the June general election, the ANC and the IFP signed a peace deal establishing a code of conduct during the voting period. The ANC won the election by taking close to a two-thirds of the contested seats. Thabo Mbeki emerged as South Africa’s new president, while Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of the IFP, retained his position as Minister of Home Affairs, in part to defuse the tensions in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The governing African National Congress has won a crushing victory in South Africa’s elections – and is within a whisker of reaching a two-thirds majority.” [BBC News, June 3, 1999]

“South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has signed a peace deal with its rival, the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, to bring an end to years of conflict. The agreement establishes a code of conduct for the general election on 2 June and calls for a joint election rally to be addressed by the two party leaders, the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki and Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the IFP.” [BBC News, May 14, 1999]

1998 The prospects for peace in KwaZulu-Natal waned as fears increased of mob violence before and during the June 1999 Presidential elections. The 1998 conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and the report of Bishop Desmond Tutu detailing the abuses of all parties involved in the apartheid system were expected to advance the process of healing conflict wounds and promoting future peace.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), created to investigate apartheid-era human rights abuses, make recommendations for reparations for victims, and grant amnesty for full disclosure of politically motivated crimes, completed all but its amnesty- and reparations-related work by midyear and presented its final report to President Mandela on October 29. The report criticized the former apartheid government, as well as almost every group involved in the liberation struggle, including the ANC.” [1998 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, South Africa, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, 1999]

The power struggle between supporters of the pan-South African ANC and the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the former “Homeland” province of KwaZulu-Natal is rooted in the apartheid period. Prior to democratic elections in 1994, only the IFP enjoyed democratic privileges in KwaZulu-Natal, due to its close association with the Homeland government. Tension and violence were further augmented in November 1990 when the ANC initiated recruiting drives in various townships in the province and, in early December 1991, 19 ANC supporters were killed by IFP supporters in response to the new recruiting policy. The political rivalry has continued through various acts of violence, including mass murders.

A major political hurdle was passed in June 1996 when, after two postponements because of violence, municipal elections were held in KwaZulu-Natal without casualties, and in which both main parties had victories. In December 1996, President Nelson Mandela signed into law a new constitution, one by which all South Africans, including the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, have agreed to live. During 1997 the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature extended peace initiatives through a special bilateral IFP-ANC Peace Committee and a Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security. Relations between the ANC and the IFP improved, but the tension in KwaZulu Natal heightened in 1998 with waves of killings in Richmond. The bloodshed was blamed for the United Democratic Movement (UDM), a new party whose leaders were expelled from the ruling ANC. In January 1999, UDM secretary-general Sifiso Nkabinde was killed in Richmond in what appeared to be a retaliatory attack for killings of ANC members.

Arms Sources:
The South African government has inherited an indigenous weapons industry from the apartheid era. Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and the UK will supply major weapon systems to South African forces as part of a large government procurement program.


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