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Inkatha's young militants: reconsidering political violence in South Africa

  • Timothy Gibbs

South Africa's township revolts have generated much excellent research on the central role played by rebellious, urban youth. This article explores a parallel set of intergenerational conflicts that opened up in the marginal rural districts of the Natal Midlands, which were exacerbated by apartheid's forced removals of labour tenants from commercial farming districts to crowded ‘Native Reserves’ in the 1970s. At this time of deepening poverty, elders worried about the rising incidence of juvenile petty crime, particularly amongst the teenagers who increasingly took itinerant, seasonal labour on the commercial farms. Some of these young migrants, unable to find steady factory work at a time of mounting unemployment, also played a leading role in the illicit, sometimes criminal networks of South Africa's growing popular economy. Finally, I show how some of these youths were mobilized by Inkatha during the war against the African National Congress in Johannesburg – often to the revulsion of older men who abhorred their socially harmful, thuggish violence, which spiralled uncontrollably along migrant routes. Thus the political violence was often known as the udlame: a brutal savagery that destroys households, communities and society.

Les révoltes des townships en Afrique du Sud ont généré d'excellents travaux de recherche sur le rôle central joué par les jeunes rebelles urbains. Cet article explore un ensemble parallèle de conflits intergénérationnels survenus dans les districts ruraux marginaux des Natal Midlands, qui furent exacerbés sous l'apartheid par l'expulsion forcée des métayers des districts agricoles commerciaux vers des réserves appelées « Native Reserves » dans les années 1970. En cette période de pauvreté grandissante, les anciens s'inquiétaient de l'incidence croissante de la délinquance juvénile, notamment chez les adolescents de plus en plus nombreux à travailler comme saisonniers itinérants dans les fermes commerciales. Certains de ces jeunes migrants, faute de pouvoir trouver des emplois stables en usine en période de chômage croissant, ont également joué un rôle majeur dans les réseaux illicites, voire criminels, de l’économie populaire croissante d'Afrique du Sud. Enfin, l'auteur montre comment certains de ces jeunes ont été mobilisés par Inkatha pendant la guerre menée contre l'ANC (African National Congress) à Johannesburg, s'attirant souvent la répulsion des plus âgés qui abhorraient leur violence brutale, socialement nuisible, qui dégénérait en spirale incontrôlable le long des voies de migration. C'est ainsi que la violence politique fut souvent appelée udlame : une sauvagerie brutale destructrice des ménages, des communautés et de la société.

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