echoes OF CONFLICT

Like many supporters of the ruling ANC in the volatile KwaZulu heartland, Jotham Myaka fears what the night often brings - gunshots and death threats shouted outside his home.

Like many supporters of the ruling ANC in the volatile KwaZulu heartland, Jotham Myaka fears what the night often brings - gunshots and death threats shouted outside his home.

Myaka is an ANC official who heads a rural development organisation in Muden, a stronghold of the IFP, about 100km north of Durban.

The impoverished rural area of about 50000 people has become a flashpoint ahead of the April 22 elections, with the ANC accusing its IFP rivals of trying to ban electioneering, intimidation of party workers and assaults.

"The IFP people have been saying they don't want the ANC in the area," Myaka said.

There are 26000 registered voters in Muden, where about 70percent of people are unemployed. Many men work in Durban or Johannesburg, while others have seasonal work on farms.

Conflict in KwaZulu-Natal is not new. The ANC and IFP fought a bloody turf war - which killed thousands - before the end of apartheid.

But since the mid-1990s, there has been relative peace in the province after ANC leader Jacob Zuma helped bring an end to the violence. The ANC is widely expected to win the elections and choose Zuma as South Africa's president.

Some analysts in KwaZulu-Natal are concerned over signs of a looming conflict.

"Several political party members have been murdered, or attempts have been made on their lives. Intimidation and threats are rife in a number of areas," said Mary de Haas, who has been documenting the conflict for decades.

The latest killings are not confined to the ANC. De Haas says a number of IFP officials have been killed since January.

Leaders of both parties have condemned the violence and agreed to exercise tolerance in the election period.

Muden is a staunch IFP-supporting area. Telephone poles carry IFP flags bearing the image of its leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

ANC posters are often defaced. Officials say their campaigning in the area is met with strong opposition from traditional chiefs loyal to the IFP.

"This time it has become very serious. There is a lot of tension, more than before previous elections, and the IFP says there should be no ANC in the area," said Jeffrey Ngobese, an ANC councillor in Muden.

IFP provincial secretary Bonginkosi Buthelezi said the claims were "wild allegations". - Reuters

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