Opposition Assails S. Africa Aide Over Killings by Police

Times Staff Writer

Hard-line Law and Order Minister Louis le Grange came under blistering attack Thursday as liberal opposition members of Parliament demanded that he accept responsibility for the fatal police shooting of 20 blacks and resign.

Le Grange “must, in all conscience, resign,” said Helen Suzman, speaking for the Progressive Federal Party as Parliament debated a judicial report on the March 21 shooting at Langa, near Uitenhage in eastern Cape province.

“As the man at the top, he cannot escape the fact that . . . responsibility for the ghastly happenings at Langa rests on his shoulders. . . . It cannot be left for blacks to say, ‘The police get away with murder.’ ”

John Malcomess, a Progressive Federal member of Parliament from Port Elizabeth, near Uitenhage, said Le Grange “should not be allowed to resign but should be fired.”


Refuses to Resign

Le Grange, who sat stony-faced through the heated 2 1/2-hour parliamentary debate in Cape Town, replied that he has no intention of quitting.

“I know that I have the full support of my colleagues (in the ruling National Party and the Cabinet) and subsequently pay no attention to the frivolous demands for my resignation from the Cabinet by a little leftist group,” he said.

At Langa, police opened fire at virtually point-blank range with pistols, rifles and shotguns on a black funeral procession, believing that the mourners were marching to attack a white residential neighborhood. It was the bloodiest incident in 10 months of unrest here. It occurred on the 25th anniversary of the fatal police shooting of 69 black demonstrators at Sharpeville, south of Johannesburg.


Le Grange, who initially said that the police had fired in self-defense after being hit by a shower of rocks, sticks and firebombs, admitted Thursday that his first statements on the incident were wrong, but he blamed confused field reports. This, he added, did not justify the incident being “hysterically discussed by leftist politicians and the press.”

Taunts by Police

The judicial inquiry determined that only a few stones and no firebombs had been thrown at the police, although the remains of two gasoline-filled bottles with newspaper wicks were found at the scene. It also found that the incident was touched off by provocative police taunts at what was until then a peaceful funeral procession, and that the whole incident could have been avoided if police had not acted “deviously” to secure a court order banning the funeral.

What the report by Judge Donald D. V. Kannemeyer, a respected Supreme Court justice, revealed, Suzman said, was “a total lack of control and discipline within the police force--a scandalous state of affairs.” Particularly worrying, she continued, was the growing police attitude toward blacks of “now let us show them, once and for all, who is boss.”


Peter Gastrow, a Progressive Federal member of Parliament from Durban, who represented the party during the judicial inquiry, called for punishment of the officers who ordered riot units to be equipped with military rifles and shotguns loaded with buckshot rather than with tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot, the standard riot-control equipment here.

Calls for Compensation

Suzman, noting that Le Grange has ordered a police inquiry board to follow up the judicial report, which absolved the police lieutenant who ordered his men to fire, said “punitive measures must ensue.” She also called upon the government to drop charges against blacks arrested as a result of the incident and to pay compensation to the families of those killed and to the wounded.

Le Grange drew some support from his own National Party and from the right-wing Conservative Party, both of which attacked the Progressive Federalists for “attempting to make political capital out of the tragedy of others,” as the Nationalist member from Uitenhage put it.


The debate will continue today in the Colored (mixed-race) and Indian houses of the tricameral Parliament, with Le Grange certain to come in for even sharper criticism.