The offices of two huge South African corporations that had dismissed 17,400 black workers last week were heavily damaged by bomb blasts early Tuesday, perhaps marking a sharp escalation of the widespread unrest here.
The explosions, the first in downtown Johannesburg since last September, occurred at the headquarters of the Anglo American Corp. and Anglovaal Ltd., two mining and industrial giants.
The two buildings were damaged extensively, as were nearby shops and offices, by the almost simultaneous explosions. No casualties were reported despite a shower of glass that covered surrounding streets and a shock wave felt almost 10 miles away.
In Lusaka, Zambia, an officer of the outlawed African National Congress, requiring anonymity, said it was likely that activists of his group had placed the bombs.
Thus, the bombings appeared to mark a fusing of black political and economic grievances and a further emergence of radical militants choosing violence in their struggle against South Africa’s apartheid policies of racial segregation.
Most Progressive Employers
Both Anglo American and Anglovaal, regarded as among the country’s most progressive employers, had already reached tentative agreements with the 100,000-member National Union of Mineworkers on early reemployment of the dismissed workers, most of whom have been sent back to their rural homes.
The disputes, going back nearly two months, are complex, involving the union’s continued objection to the reservation of higher-paid jobs for whites and the companies’ desire for greater labor discipline and stronger union leadership.
Anglo American, which had fired 14,400 from its Vaal Reefs gold mine, the world’s largest, said it would give preference to the dismissed workers in rehiring. However, the firm conditioned this on the union’s “cooperation in eliminating intimidation, violence and lawlessness” at the mine, 100 miles southwest of Johannesburg.
The National Union of Mineworkers, one of South Africa’s fastest-growing labor unions, angrily objected to these terms and said the underlying disputes remain unresolved.
Willing to Rehire Workers
Anglovaal, which has indicated a willingness to rehire most of the 3,000 workers it dismissed from the Hartebeesfontein gold mine near Vaal Reefs, expressed hope Tuesday that its problems could be resolved quickly. Some company executives said they thought the bombings might be the work of militants who had not heard of the tentative agreements between the firms and the union leadership.
Also on Tuesday, 40 trade union members were arrested on charges of holding an illegal gathering as they demonstrated outside Johannesburg’s City Hall. The protests came at the resumption of negotiations between labor’s Metal and Allied Workers Union and management’s Steel and Engineering Industry Federation on wages and a variety of grievances, particularly recent layoffs.
The chanting demonstrators carried placards reading “Stop Retrenchments” and “MAAWU Demand a Living Wage” in a brief and peaceful protest before heavily armed police moved in and arrested them. South Africa’s security laws prohibit virtually any demonstration unless a government permit has been obtained.
Further Protests Expected
Further union protests, all with strong political overtones, are expected today and over the weekend in observance of May Day, the international workers’ day.
Meanwhile, another bomb, containing leaflets of the South African Communist Party, was found in a trash basket in downtown Durban by a street cleaner Tuesday morning. It was quickly defused.
A similar device, which police said was intended to explode with a loud but non-lethal bang, was discovered Monday in a children’s park before it went off. Last week, however, a Durban sanitation worker was killed by a leaflet bomb he had apparently found.
National police headquarters in Pretoria reported scattered unrest around the country Tuesday. Firebomb attacks on government offices, schools, local officials’ homes and delivery vehicles continued in many black townships, particularly in eastern Cape province, but with no new fatalities.
In a calculated “show of force” around Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage, the major industrial complex in the eastern Cape region, more than 500 riot policemen and soldiers moved slowly through troubled black townships in a lengthy convoy of more than 50 armored cars, while military and police helicopters hovered overhead.
A police spokesman, Lt. Col. Gerrie van Rooyen, said in Port Elizabeth that the operation was intended to demonstrate the government’s determination to restore law and order with all the means at its disposal.