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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zulus Fear Weekend of Violence

STANGER, South Africa -- South Africa's Zulu heartland was on a knife-edge Friday with troops on alert as a Zulu power struggle threatened to erupt into bloody conflict at the weekend.

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, 45, in dispute with his powerful uncle Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, cancelled annual celebrations Saturday and Sunday commemorating the warrior King Shaka, who founded the Zulu nation in the early 19th century.

But Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party and the Inkatha-dominated provincial legislature in the Zulu heartland of KwaZulu-Natal rejected the king's move and said the festivities would go ahead.

Thousands of Zulus were expected to converge Saturday on the northern coastal town of Stanger, where Shaka had his royal residence, and at Durban's KwaMashu township Sunday.

"I think there may well be violence. I am fearful of what is going to happen in rural areas," violence monitor Mary de Haas said. "People are not going to take it. They are going to defend themselves."

A police spokesman said police and troops were on alert and a large contingent from the security forces would be deployed in and around Stanger on Saturday. "The police and the army have made contingency plans. We will be out in full force, we are prepared for anything," he added.

"We are ready to assist and if the situation on the ground becomes volatile, we will move in to assist them," army spokesman Franz Verfuss said.

The king ordered the festivities canceled and broke relations with Buthelezi, 65, in a row with his uncle after Inkatha supporters stormed the royal residence early this week. He rejected Buthelezi's claims to be a hereditary adviser to the monarchy.

Violence monitors and human rights groups say the power struggle between the king and Buthelezi, who is also home affairs minister in President Nelson Mandela's government of national unity, could erupt into open conflict among the country's 9 million Zulus.

Violence in KwaZulu-Natal has eased since the country's first all-race elections in April. But more than 10,000 people have died in turf wars during the past decade among Zulu supporters of Inkatha and its arch rival for political power, Mandela's African National Congress.

The ANC on Friday urged its members to stay away from the festivities. "The African National Congress in KwaZulu-Natal is greatly disturbed by the unfolding political situation and the possibility of an outbreak of violence in the province," it said in a statement.

Mandela on Thursday urged calm during the celebrations. "We wish there would be no such violence," he said.