Police Open Fire as 50,000 Protest Outside Pretoria
Police opened fire today at a crowd of tens of thousands of black protesters outside Pretoria, witnesses said. A newspaper reported at least six people were killed and hundreds injured.
Police headquarters confirmed two deaths but made no mention of violence at the gathering estimated by reporters to number more than 50,000 in Mamelodi, a sprawling black township north of Pretoria, the country’s administrative capital.
It apparently was one of the biggest confrontations in 15 months of violence against apartheid, the legal system by which 5 million whites rule 24 million voteless blacks. More than 800 people, primarily blacks, have died in the rioting, two-thirds of them killed by police and the rest by other blacks who suspect them of collaborating with the government, officials say.
The Mamelodi protesters were demanding lower rents, an end to restrictions on funerals and the departure of soldiers and extra police from Mamelodi.
Several hours after the clash, Magistrate P. A. J. Burger banned all funerals in Mamelodi from Friday evening to Sunday evening. He said they could endanger the peace.
In the Mamelodi violence, both police and journalists said youths mobilized before dawn to stop residents from going to work and to join a protest march to the town council.
A police statement said officers shot to death a black woman in a crowd attacking a police car, and killed a black man in a similar clash. There was no mention of injuries. Police said one of their vehicles was set on fire by a gasoline bomb.
A photographer who flew over the township in midafternoon said almost no one was on the streets as police patrolled in armored vehicles. Earlier, youths blocked streets with rubble and set it afire.
The Pretoria region is not among the 38 cities and towns under state-of-emergency rules that restrict coverage of unrest. But police at roadblocks barred journalists from entering as soon as the trouble broke out. Reporters could hear gunfire through the morning from the roadblocks.
More than one-third of the township’s 150,000 residents turned out for the early-morning rally when police moved in, witnesses said.
“There was no sign that the police were in any danger, and there was no warning from the police that they were going to shoot,” said one reporter.
“We only heard the sound of the guns as the first tear gas canister was shot. There was no stone-throwing, no petrol (gasoline) bombs from the crowd” before the shooting started, said the journalist, who spoke on condition he not be identified.