This is the fourth of an oral history scraps series.*
When commentators consider the contemporary state of South Africa, they discuss it as a country still transitioning from apartheid. Not enough is made of the fact that parts of the country are also recovering from civil war sponsored by the apartheid state. Between 1985 and 1996, at least 20,000 people died; 13,000 in KwaZulu-Natal alone. Conservative estimates suggest 200,000 were made homeless, internal refugees in their own country.
Less then twenty years since the end of the war, my oral history interviews were riddled with insight into how people are–or are not–rebuilding their lives in the wake of war. Many spoke to human losses and the financial ramifications. They attested to the need to start anew, building new homes, buying new wardrobes, but never being able to recover wedding keepsakes and photographs of children. One person remembers being forced to continue to make payments on new furniture long after that furniture was destroyed by fire. Some still are unable to return home after the war, where new residents built on their homestead sites.
In light of the upcoming August local elections in South Africa and recent political violence (such as the political killings of ANC politicians in the Natal Midlands earlier this month or this past weekend’s shooting in Pretoria), I offer some oral history insights into how rural South Africans connect elections to the country’s civil war.
One woman suggested that every election cycle brings fear and unwanted memories:
Every time when we go for elections, I get nervous because people are getting emotional.
Another woman spoke to her subsequent ambivalence about voting:
I did not understand anything about the [political] parties [during the war]. Even today I still do not have any idea about the organisations’ issues. I do vote because everyone has a vote. What made me hate the organisations is that many people died. Those who knew what they were fighting for are living a life of luxury while we are still suffering and they got this life through other people’s blood. Personally, I do not know why I am voting. I accompany those who know what they are doing and I do not want to know because it is not going to help me.
And as the continuing assassinations of candidates and ward councilors suggest, political violence is still a very real phenomenon in South Africa, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal.
While many rightly make connections between these attacks and those of the civil war, the less obvious legacy is the prevalence of weapons in these communities. One man, who asked to be anonymous due to the sensitivity of our conversation, made this explicit:
A: There are still many guns that were distributed by Philip Powell [a white apartheid agent connected to the IFP and Eugene de Kock]. He gave them to someone [affiliated with Inkatha] who was going to help distribute them. That was XX. Then other guns were given to this boy XX.
Q: The guns were only distributed to IFP members?
A: Yes and a lot of people received them. XX still has G3s. I have no idea how the police do not get a hold of those guns.
The legacies of South Africa’s civil war are as much a part of contemporary life as apartheid.
*Everyone who participated in the oral history project gave oral or written consent for use of their interviews in publications and eventual archival deposit.
 Mary de Haas, “Violence in Natal and Zululand: The 1980s,” in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, vol. 6 [1990-1996] (Pretoria: Unisa Press, 2013), 88–152.
For more on the recent assassinations, check out these Mail & Guardian stories:
“Killings Signal the Start of the Battle for Power,” May 27, 2016
“Politics Becomes a Deadly Game in KZN,” May 27, 2016
“Special Police Task Force to Probe Political Killings,” June 6, 2016