Blasts shatter June 16 peace
Two explosions in Cape Town and a brief march from Regina Mundi church in Soweto marked an otherwise quiet June 16, twelfth anniversary of the Soweto 1976 uprising. In most of the country, the day was marked as a quiet holiday, with stayaway levels varying from region to region. Many companies had agreed to close for the day, but it was clear that a luge proportion of others were hit by low turnouts.
The PWV region and most Eastern Cape cities came to a standstill; Durban reported a relatively low stayaway, though some factories had zero turnout; the Chamber of Mines reported a 95 percent overall turnout but two Natal coal mines reported the absence of almost 100 percent of their workforce. In Soweto, over 1 000 people briefly marched. Police intervened, but Emergency regulations make it illegal to give details of Security Force action. The march came after a lengthy memorial meeting at Regina Mundi.
A large police contingent had maintained a low profile, but tension rose when they arrived en masse at the venue of the meeting at about 2pm. Members of the audience "confiscated" police cameras and there was a brief altercation. Most of the crowd in the hall then emptied into the streets, toyi-toying and chanting. The action taken by police cannot be reported. The crowd dispersed. Earlier, all was quiet in Soweto. Not a single bus was in sight by mid-afternoon and only a few taxis could be seen moving around the largely deserted streets.
At dawn, a small group had laid a wreath at the grave of Hector Peterson, the 15-year-old who was the first casualty of the 1976 uprising. At the Methodist Youth Centre in White City, men, women and children toyi-toying and singing freedom songs, extolled ANC leaders, as speakers recalled the upsurge 12 years ago. In Cape Town, as police investigations into two explosions got under way, about 300 people at a service at the Metropolitan Church in Green-market Square sang freedom songs and heard a lengthy message, apparently from African National Congress leader Oliver Tambo.
Tambo may not be quoted in South Africa. When the Western Province Council of Churches chairperson, the Rev Russell Botman, finished reading the message, he said it was signed simply "Oliver" - to which the congregation responded with shouts of "Viva Tambo!" A few hours earlier, the body of an unidentified man was discovered at the scene of an explosion near the Wynberg magistrate's court. Police believe the blast was caused by a handgrenade and that the dead man was responsible. An unexploded limpet mine was found nearby. There was no damage to nearby homes.
The second explosion occurred near the Langa railway station at about 12.15pm. Two patrolling policemen saw and heard the explosion, which extensively damaged the line about loom from the station. Colonel Steve van Rooyen, of the Police Public Relations Division in Pretoria, said the two men, realizing an oncoming train would be derailed, had run up the line and warned the driver, who managed to stop in time. "If it were not for these members.' presence of mind, considerable damage, injury and loss of life would have occurred," Van Rooyen said. Natal townships were quiet, though the sabotaging of the main power line to KwaMashu in the early hours of the morning brought mil traffic to a standstill.
Sapa reported an incident when a crowd left a church in Lamontville, near Durban. Details cannot be reported because of the ban on reporting Security Force action. The ban also prevents us from reporting allegations of Security Force action after a commemoration service at the University of Natal in Durban. SA Transport Services reported that Soweto/Johannesburg train traffic was, at 25 percent of normal. Their figures for other areas were 30 percent for both the East and West Rand, 15 percent for Pretoria, 20 percent for East London, 30 percent for Port Elizabeth, 75 percent for Cape Town and 80 percent for Durban.
*The Police Division of Public Relations said yesterday there had been no reports of serious unrest incidents during the June 16 stayaway. A police spokesman said he had no knowledge of any incident at Regina Mundi.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.