Riots, Fires Spread Near Cape Town : Police, Blacks in Running Battles; 2-Day Toll Is 21
Rioting spread Thursday across Cape Town’s ghetto townships for blacks and mixed-race Coloreds, bringing to at least 21 the number of people killed in the last two days of South Africa’s continuing civil unrest.
Fires burning out of control in most of Cape Town’s surrounding townships virtually ringed the city with flames, and heavily armed police and soldiers sealed off the areas to keep the riots from spreading to the few communities still peaceful.
The focus of unrest remained the black township of Guguletu, where police fought running battles with hundreds of black youths throughout the day, firing tear-gas grenades, rubber bullets and birdshot at them and being hit in return by firebombs and showers of rocks.
Barricades Set Up
More and more of the clashes turned into urban guerrilla warfare as youths set up barricades of burning tires, wrecked autos, mattresses and old sofas, strung barbed wire across roads to decapitate police and soldiers riding in fast-moving armored cars and lured security forces into ambushes, where they were showered with firebombs.
At least 15 people, including a 3-year-old girl who died when her house was hit by a firebomb, have died in Guguletu in the last two days, according to police and doctors at a nearby clinic.
Nine or 10 of the deaths occurred Wednesday when police fired on 3,000 black youths, who were chanting anti-government slogans and jogging in formation on their way to join a march on Pollsmoor Prison where black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela is serving a life sentence. The others were shot Thursday as the violence continued.
Unconfirmed reports late Thursday said that three more children have died in Guguletu and at a squatter camp at neighboring Nyanga.
Hit by Shotgun Pellets
The injured streamed out of Guguletu for treatment at nearby clinics. Most had been hit by shotgun pellets. Some had large lumps where they were hit by the three-inch-long hard rubber bullets. A woman had a gaping wound in her back where she was hit by a tear-gas shell, and she was badly burned. A boy of 5 was choking on tear-gas fumes he had inhaled when a shell landed in the kitchen of his family’s home. Casualties treated at area clinics for injuries now total more than 200.
Police said Thursday afternoon that they had arrested about 150 people but added that they had been too busy to fill out proper arrest reports on all of them.
As the violence mounted again Thursday and police prepared to take tougher action, reporters were barred from Guguletu and other black townships on the personal orders of Louis le Grange, South Africa’s minister of law and order.
However, charges will be dropped against nine journalists detained Wednesday for allegedly obstructing police, it was reported Thursday.
Despite police efforts to contain the violence, it swept like a brush fire to neighboring black and Colored communities, including the large Colored township of Mitchell’s Plain. Youths were reacting with mounting anger to Wednesday’s tough police action that prevented the planned march on the prison where Mandela, leader of the outlawed African National Congress, is serving a life sentence for sabotage.
Mobs of Colored youths, mostly high school students, set up burning barricades along most of the township’s main streets, looted and set fire to stores at two shopping centers and stoned whites in passing cars with what one driver later called “absolutely terrifying accuracy.”
Police fired tear gas grenades and rubber bullets at whatever groups gathered, and they used whips to beat students gathering at the burning shopping centers. Teachers at a church-run day-care center said their 60 preschool children were tear-gassed when police thought older youths had taken refuge there.
Three Colored youths, aged 12, 13 and 16, were killed at Mitchell’s Plain, residents there said, although police could not immediately confirm their deaths. Dozens of arrests were made there, the residents added.
In Bellville South, another Colored suburb, students from the nearby University of the Western Cape fought with police up one street and down another throughout the afternoon. As the students pelted them with rocks, the police fired volleys of tear-gas grenades, whose acrid smoke quickly covered the whole township.
Children at two elementary schools fled in fear as tear-gas grenades landed in their school yard--and were taken for rioters and tear gassed again.
More deaths were reported Thursday in Soweto, Johannesburg’s black sister city, in Kwathema, east of Johannesburg, and near Paarl, 30 miles north of Cape Town, in what were described by police as efforts to disperse groups of stone-throwing youths. About 675 people, most of them blacks, have died over the last year in unrest here.
South Africa’s growing crisis brought a new appeal Thursday evening from most of the country’s business groups to the government to talk with “accepted leaders of the black community,” including those such as Mandela who are in prison, to work out a program of political, economic and social reforms. Without the participation of such leaders, the business groups say, negotiations would have little prospect of success.
Although the business groups have called on the government several times in the last year to undertake such reforms, this time they put forward a step-by-step negotiating plan that would require major government concessions at the outset to open a dialogue and persuade blacks of the government’s sincerity.
In addition to talks with Mandela, the organizations call for immediate government assurances on basic reforms, including an end to racial discrimination, an open agenda that rules out no options, such as an eventual one-man-one-vote system, and informal discussions among all parties on an equal basis to fix negotiating priorities and launch the talks. And it called for the lifting, “as soon as circumstances permit,” of the partial state of emergency declared six weeks ago by President Pieter W. Botha.
The groups, whose members include most major employers and many local businessmen, stressed that “normalizing the South African situation can only come about if all the country’s people recognize that they have a shared destiny to be arrived at through serious negotiation between partners of equal negotiating status.”
The call came from the Assn. of Chambers of Commerce of Southern Africa, the Federated Chambers of Industry, the National African Federated Chambers of Commerce and the Urban Foundation, a business-supported organization promoting social reform. Significantly, the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut, which includes most of the more conservative Afrikaner businessmen, did not sign the call.
The groups also expressed deep concern that the government, which on Tuesday suspended trading on South Africa’s foreign currency and stock markets, is moving back toward greater control of the economy and retreating from the open, less regulated economy it has tried to promote in recent years.
“Organized business would seriously warn against the danger of the country entering a state of siege in response to the threat of local boycotts, trade union strikes and stayaways (brief general strikes) and international sanctions and disinvestment,” the statement said.
Gavin Relly, chairman of the giant Anglo-American Corp., an industrial and mining conglomerate, also reiterated his call for political negotiations to solve the country’s problems, including its economic difficulties.
“What is needed for the short-, medium- and long-term health of the country is an acceleration of the reform program. . . ,” Relly declared. “Above all, it is necessary for the government to enter into genuine negotiations with representatives of all groups in South Africa for a new political system of genuine power sharing.”
The mounting unrest, the worst since clashes in February between police and residents of the Crossroads squatter settlement, brought an urgent appeal Thursday from the Cape Town city council to the national government and the police to refrain from “violent and provocative action” and to work towards a “positive climate for reconciliation” in South Africa.
Council members called upon the police to use “maximum restraint,” and one member expressed concern about the “disgraceful display of brutality” against demonstrators Wednesday and voiced his “outrage” over the “obvious relish” with which the police attacked the protesters.
In renewed demonstrations Thursday at the predominantly white University of Cape Town, students again tried to protest Mandela’s continued imprisonment and other government policies in a demonstration above a major highway that is on the school’s campus. As happened Wednesday, police dispersed them after several rocks were thrown, replying with tear gas and whips.
Blacks and Coloreds who cooperate with the government were again targets during the unrest. In Guguletu, the home of a police detective was firebombed, but he returned with his colleagues to put out the fire and to frighten away the attackers with his service pistol.
A firebomb was thrown at the home of a former government employee, apparently to intimidate him for not supporting the liberation struggle more forcefully, but it caused only minor damage. The mayor of a small black township in eastern Cape province, who this week appeared on television praising the state of emergency, was burned out of his home by firebombs.