S. Africa Names Jurist to Probe Deaths of 19 Black Protesters in Clash With Police

Times Staff Writer

A leading South African jurist was appointed Friday to investigate the deaths of 19 blacks in a clash with police near Port Elizabeth this week as the government sought to quell the continuing racial unrest here.

Supreme Court Justice Donald D. V. Kannemeyer was named by President Pieter W. Botha to "report urgently" on the incident just outside Uitenhage, 15 miles northwest of Port Elizabeth. On Thursday morning, police opened fire with pistols, rifles and shotguns on a crowd of 3,000 to 4,000 blacks after, police said, they refused to disperse and began to throw stones, bricks and firebombs at the officers.

The police action has been widely condemned here, and the government is moving to reduce the resulting tension that threatens to plunge the country into a new cycle of racial violence.

Heavy Police Presence

In Langa, the black township outside Uitenhage where the shooting occurred, police made 30 arrests Friday, apparently in connection with the Thursday clash. Langa was reported tense but quiet Friday evening, with a heavy police presence.

Another confrontation may come Sunday when funerals are planned for three people killed in earlier violence there, but these and political meetings have now been banned by the government.

The homes of nine black policemen in a neighboring township were burned overnight, and police later reported using tear gas and birdshot to disperse crowds there.

Throughout Friday, police fought running battles with black youths as they set fire to schools, shops and government offices in more than 15 towns around the country. Police said they fired tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot to halt the disturbances and made a number of arrests.

Hand Grenades Thrown

In Soweto, Johannesberg's black suburb, two hand grenades were thrown at government offices, causing considerable damage but no injuries, according to police. In Sharpeville and Sebokeng, two black townships 45 miles south of Johannesburg, police fired volleys of rubber bullets and tear gas at youths stoning them, a police spokesman said. In Sasolburg, black youths hijacked a bus and crashed it into a government office building, setting the building on fire.

Near the diamond mining town of Kimberly, unrest was reported for the second day as students burned the homes of school officials, and in Cradock, a long-troubled town 20 miles north of Port Elizabeth, several teachers' homes were burned.

Although many people, including several policemen, were injured in the violence, no deaths were reported Friday.

But the toll at Langa rose to 19 early Friday when an injured woman died in a hospital and another body was found at the scene of the clash.

Controversy grew Friday over the Uitenhage incident, with the police version strongly disputed by black residents of Langa who said they had been fired upon without warning or provocation.

No Proof of Firebombs

Helen Suzman, a member of Parliament for the liberal white opposition Progressive Federal Party, who visited Langa, said the police officers at the incident were inexperienced and that there was no evidence of the firebombs that police cited as justification for firing on the crowd.

"There are all the elements of (police) panic here," she said. "I don't think a junior officer (a police lieutenant) should have been sent to control such a large crowd."

Kannemeyer, 63, a veteran jurist respected for his integrity and independence, is to hear both sides of the story, delve into the background of the unrest at Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth--where 15 people had died in the 10 days before the Thursday clash--and then issue a report, perhaps with recommendations on police procedure in similar events in the future.

His appointment was welcomed by Frederik van zyl Slabbert, leader of the Progressive Federal Party, who warned President Botha in a private meeting Thursday that the country is increasingly caught up in a cycle of violence that is destroying hopes for peaceful reform.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°