Shades of '84 as township anger rages

A wave of unprecedented violence and protest swept the country this week on a bigger scale than in the 1984-86 period as township groups fought among themselves and with police. Death figures are mounting in Natal and in at least 22 townships throughout the country as the violence appears to be gaining momentum. Leaders on all sides have expressed the hope that the “unrest” will not crush the fledgling negotiating process. The police said yesterday afternoon that in the previous 24 hours at least 18 people had been killed and the toll was rising. 

The African National Congress, United Democratic Front, lnkatha and the government have called for restraint and an end to the violence - but their appeals appear to have had little effect so far. UDF Transvaal publicity secretary Ronnie Mamoepa said he believed members of the police force were “trying to derail the negotiating process” by preventing protest action. He said that in most areas he believed members of UDF affiliates had been disciplined, although there was a problem of criminal elements taking advantage of conflict situations. “It is difficult for u s to convince people to act peacefully when they are being attacked by police who do not respect their right to protest.” 

Constitutional Affairs Minister Dr Gerrit Viljoen said he believed the current wave of violence “was not attributable to the release of prisoners or the lifting of restrictions as violence had occurred before”. But he added that the government would “employ all the means at its disposal to maintain law and order”. Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi called for a “national campaign by all South Africans to eliminate the current violence”. He said the State of Emergency could not help diffuse the situation. “When States of Emergency be come a way of life, they begin to stimulate violence and become self-defeating.” Detention figures may have passed the 200 mark, according to the Human Rights Commission, with at least 36 people being held in terms of the Internal Security Act; between 112 and 160 under the Emergency regulations; and a further 20 in the “independent homelands”. 

In the Vaal Triangle township of Sebokeng a spate of violent incidents have been reported since police opened fire on marchers earlier in the week, killing at least II. The UDF has blamed the police for starting the violence by shooting at marchers while a peaceful crowd was dispersing. Police said stones and petrol bombs were thrown at police vehicles and private homes, including that of a municipal policeman. In one incident police reported that a “mob set a stolen bus in motion and let it run at the police. The police managed to stop the vehicle but the mob stoned them”. Violence has struck more than 22 townships in the past few days, according to police reports. Most incidents involve clashes between youths and police. At lkhutseng, Warrenton, police reported that a “large mob of youths gathered outside the council office. When police arrived, stones were thrown at them. A police vehicle was badly damaged. A stun-grenade and rubber bullets were used to disperse the mob and two people were arrested”. 

At Soshanguve police reported that youths threw stones; injuring six policemen. Police arrested six people. Various incidents in the Cape were reported: at Kwadengezi, near Pinetown, police said a crowd fired shots at a private vehicle and then set it alight. One man died. In Knysna, police arrested 68 people · when a crowd gathered in protest outside the local magistrate’s court. 

Mark Phillips, a research officer at the Wits Business School’s Centre for Policy Studies, said he believed the wave of violence was “much like taking the lid off a pressure cooker”. “After having kept the lid on an unhappy situation for so long it is not surprising that the openings created by President FW de Klerk on February 2 resulted in the explosion of latent conflict that we are now seeing.” He said that in some areas police behaviour was “deliberately provocative” while in others they were showing “unprecedented restraint’‘. Phillips said the crisis had reached the point where township youth in particular saw they had “nothing left to lose”. “This makes it extremely difficult for either the ANC or the government to bring them under organised discipline and it is no longer clear that anybody can achieve this”. - Philippa Garson and Gavin Evans

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.



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