Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel laureate, saved a suspected police informer from almost certain death Wednesday as a crowd of angry black youths punched and kicked the man, doused him with gasoline and were within seconds of setting him on fire.
His arms flailing as he pushed through the mob, Tutu rescued the man, a black in his 30s, just as he was about to be thrown onto his burning car, a gasoline-soaked tire around his neck. The incident occurred after a funeral in Duduza, a black township 30 miles east of Johannesburg, for four youths killed in earlier unrest.
Even as Tutu and another black Anglican bishop, Simeon Nkoane, pulled the half-conscious, badly bleeding man to safety, the crowd of more than 60 youths punched and kicked and whipped him with renewed fury.
Crowd Demands Death
"Kill him, kill him!" many of the youths shouted. "Burn him, burn him!"
And for a few tense moments, the 53-year-old Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his efforts on behalf of South Africa's 24.5 million blacks, seemed to be in danger himself as the mob surged around the diminutive prelate in his purple cassock.
But Tutu and Nkoane prevailed. And after Nkoane, who had helped rescue another man in similar circumstances after a funeral Tuesday, drove the victim away, Tutu returned to lecture the youths on "the need to use righteous and just means for a righteous and just struggle."
The incident showed, Tutu said later, that "the system (of apartheid, or racial separation) is hated with such a passionate hate that anyone who is perceived as collaborating . . . is seen as an enemy of our struggle. This is no longer just a slogan. They are quite angry at these people, whom they regard as their co-oppressors."
Over the past 10 months, the attacks on black policemen, local officials and others perceived as collaborating with the minority white regime have multiplied to the point where as many blacks are dying at the hands of other blacks as in clashes with the police.
Tutu said the youths told him that he was "saving someone who was the cause of so much trouble to them, . . . someone who deserved what he was getting. In the end, I think rather reluctantly, they seemed to concede my point," that such attacks on other blacks, whatever their position, discredit the fight against the apartheid system that keeps whites in power here, he added.
"We are in a very desperate situation," Tutu said. "Violence is escalating to the point where quite a lot of young people have become almost reckless. They are saying that the only way we can get the freedom we want is by fighting for it."
But Tutu was also critical of the government for arresting or detaining without trial scores of prominent black, anti-apartheid activists--actions that angered the country's black majority.
"The action the government takes against those leaders is self-defeating," he said. "You end up with a group of people who have no real acknowledged leadership, and that kind of group soon degenerates into a mob.
"Part of the reason why we did succeed is because they still respect me to some extent," he said. "But we do not have the stature of a Nelson Mandela or an Oliver Tambo," he added, referring to jailed and exiled leaders of the outlawed African National Congress.
The funeral, which drew more than 15,000 persons, was emotional but notably more peaceful than the services in nearby Kwathema on Tuesday, when at least nine and probably 12 blacks were killed in clashes with police.
The eight who were buried in the two ghetto towns died in hand grenade and bomb explosions two weeks ago. Police said the youths were making "a coordinated terrorist attack" on policemen's homes. But the African National Congress and other government critics have charged that police agents recruited the youths and trained them wrongly so the devices exploded in their hands.
This controversy, and police sweeps through the townships, have increased tensions sharply in the last two weeks. Reports from national police headquarters in Pretoria on Wednesday detailed nearly 30 incidents of firebombings, stone-throwing and other clashes around the country--about the same number as Tuesday. Police said one man was killed Wednesday morning at Kwathema, but later retracted that report, saying it had duplicated another, although it did not appear to do so.