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Emergency Decree Aimed At Ending S. Africa Violence

By Bob Drogin
Los Angeles Times
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 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 G. Buthelezi, the only black homeland leader who still opposes the first all-race elections 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."

The military later announced that at least 500 paratroopers and infantry soldiers would 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 rallies and protests, detain suspects without trial, order curfews and seize weapons. Political meetings or demonstrations will only be allowed with permission from a magistrate, and the KwaZulu police controlled by Buthelezi will be confined to barracks.

Buthelezi called the decree "humiliating," and warned reporters 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.

But Buthelezi showed no signs of backing down, insisting the partial suspension of civil rights only proved his point that his political enemies were 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. He said the state of emergency "enjoys my wholehearted support."

"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 53 people died in gun battles and other violence stemming from a chaotic Zulu protest march Monday.

He said the army would be fully mobilized and in "complete control" by early next week across Natal. "While these drastic measures have become necessary to save lives, we must not allow the Draconian powers which the state has assumed to become yet one more obstacle on our road to democracy," he added.

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 effectively take over former tribal homelands created under white minority rule. But pacifying the far larger province of Natal may be far more difficult.

It holds about a 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. Indeed, at least 290 people were killed and hundreds were wounded in Natal and KwaZulu in March, a grim new record.