At least 80 people were killed and 20,000 left homeless in the so-called seven-day war which began in Msunduze valley in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands on March 25, 1990, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard in Pietermaritzburg on Monday.

Human rights campaigner and professor of adult education at the University of Natal, John Aitchsion, on Monday morning outlined events leading to the seven-day war in the midlands region.

In his submission to the commission, Aitchison questioned the role of police and their perceived inaction or inability to stop the conflict.

He quoted several witnesses who claimed "kitskonstabels" or special police constables had participated in some of the attacks, in which homes were gutted and looted.

Inkatha midlands leader David Ntombela was also mentioned as having planned and participated in some attacks.

Ntombela is scheduled to address the commission on Wednesday.

Aitchison said according to witnesses, Inkatha members were behind most of attacks on members of the United Democratic Front between March 25 and March 31.

The UDF was formed in 1983 as a front organisation for the then banned African National Congress.

Some UDF youths were forced to flee their areas and many from the Vulindlela region sought refuge in Edendale township near Pietermaritzburg.

Buses travelling between Vulindlela and Edendale were often stoned by the youths, apparently out of frustration for not being able to return to their homes.

"This was their way of hitting back at their persecutors, but it also meant that innocent commuters and workers from Vulindlela had to run the gauntlet on a daily basis," Aitchison told the commission.

He said three factors were largely responsible for the outbreak of the seven-day war.

Firstly, the stoning of buses led to increased tension. Secondly, a meeting between Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini and traditional chiefs on March 23 also contributed to increased tensions.

At the meeting the king apparently stated that the positions of chiefs were threatened.

Lastly, an Inkatha rally at Durban's Kings Park stadium on March 25 was also partly responsible for the outbreak of war, Aitchison said.

Buses transporting Inkatha supporters to the rally were apparently stoned en route.

At the rally Ntombela apparently warned against the continuing stoning of Inkatha supporters. He said: "I warn these people. It is for the last time now. I warn them, if they continue doing that, I will defend anyhow. If they stone the buses, my people will protect themselves."

Several policemen, journalists and politicians are scheduled to give evidence to the commission during the four-day hearing on the seven-day war.

South African Press Association, 1996
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