Botswana bomb car traced to Pretoria

The microbus laden with explosives which blew up in Gaborone yesterday, killing three people and injuring five, belongs to a Pretoria woman whose unemployed husband runs an occasional taxi service between the two centres. She told Weekly Mail she had last seen her husband on Saturday morning when he left their home in the coloured township of Eersterust, near Pretoria, to ferry passengers to Botswana.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, said her husband — who until six months ago was employed as a clerk in Bophuthatswana's Babelegi industrial area — had operated a casual taxi service between the two centres since buying the white microbus a year ago. It had been registered in her name.

The woman said she had heard nothing from her husband since he left — which had worried her because his trips usually only lasted two days. She had been "terribly shocked" to learn that their vehicle had been involved in the blast. "I can only think that someone took the combi from my husband," she said. The blast, which ripped through the low-income suburb of Gaborone West at 2am, came hours after allegations by South African Minister of Foreign Affairs Pik Botha that African National Congress guerrillas were bound for the Republic via the Frontline states to try to disrupt the May 6 white elections.

Botswana's Department of External Affairs yesterday received a note from the South African government alleging that ANC cadres were being infiltrated into South Africa from within its borders and threatening "dire consequences", the Botswana Press Agency reported. "In the past, similar messages from the South African government have been followed by raids on Botswana," a statement by the department said.

"With the forthcoming white elections in South Africa, the temptation to attract especially the right-wing vote must no doubt be great. "Given the stiff competition for right-wing support in the election campaign, it is not surprising that familiar accusations and threats relating to the ANC are again coming out-of South Africa," the department said. Botswana police said yesterday they were not discounting the possibility that the explosion had been engineered to lend credence to Botha's allegations of imminent ANC action.

Superintendent Smith Phorano, station commander of the Gaborone West police station, told Weekly Mail that while there was no "hard evidence, obviously we cannot discount this possibility". A 30-year-old welfare worker at the Gaborone West clinic, her seven-year-old daughter and a baby girl, believed to be the dead woman's cousin, died in the blast, which was heard eight km away and destroyed two houses, blew the roof off another and shattered the window panes of 17 others.

At the scene, Botswana police found the mangled remains of the white microbus with its South African registration plates intact. Witnesses told police the vehicle had been parked in the neighbourhood since Monday. The five people injured in the explosion included the dead woman's 12-year-old son and her cousin — a woman of 20 — and an elderly man, who were taken to Gaborone's Princess Marina Hospital. A spokesman described the condition of the injured as "not serious".

A father of 48 and his 12 year old son, who were in the house next door to that of the dead woman, were treated for minor injuries and discharged. Hours before the explosion, Botha told an election meeting that some insurgents had already assembled near Lusaka, and that others were making their way through Botswana Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He warned that the South African government "win be forced to take whatever action it deems necessary to protect its people and the country's borders".

Botha last night blamed the ANC for the blast. He said the bomb had been, intended for South Africa but had gone off prematurely. A South African Defence Force spokesman denied any involvement in the blast. "We were not involved. We know nothing about it," he told Weekly Mail.

Both Zambia and the ANC have denied Botha's allegations. Botswana President Quett Masire, who inspected the wreckage accompanied by heavily armed troops, expressed the government's outrage at the "murder of an innocent woman and children and destruction of property."

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