Commandos Storm S. Africa Homeland, Free Coup Leader, Seize President’s Son

Times Staff Writer

Heavily armed white commandos stormed a prison in the black tribal homeland of Ciskei early Friday and freed the former head of its security services, who had been jailed by the Ciskei president--his half-brother--after an attempted coup three years ago.

Half an hour later, other commandos abducted the president’s son, who commands an elite brigade of palace guard troops and who is seen as his father’s preferred successor, outside a casino near King William’s Town.

The freed man--Gen. Charles Sebe, 51, flamboyant former security chief--and his abducted nephew, Maj. Gen. Kwane Sebe, 28, were both seen later Friday in Transkei, another nominally independent tribal homeland and a historic rival of Ciskei.


Charles Sebe was being feted, according to witnesses, by the Matanzima brothers, Kaiser and George, who rule Transkei. Kwane Sebe and his second-in-command, abducted with him, were being held as prisoners, probably as Transkei’s hostages against possible reprisals by Ciskei’s President Lennox Sebe.

Believed to Be Mercenaries

The white commandos, who were armed with machine guns and rifles, were believed to be mercenaries in the Transkei Defense Force under Maj. Gen. Roy Reid-Daly, its commander and one of the most renowned mercenaries still working in Africa. The Matanzimas have long dreamed of uniting the two Xhosa tribal homelands, Ciskei and Transkei, under their rule.

Another possibility was that South Africa itself wanted to put Charles Sebe, who served 23 years in the South African police and security services, back into power in Ciskei and oust Lennox Sebe, 60 and ailing, who has long been despised as a usurper. Further, Lennox Sebe has become increasingly critical of Pretoria.

Charles Sebe and an older brother, Namba, now in exile in Transkei, are widely regarded as Ciskei’s legitimate leaders, and they have been at odds with President Lennox Sebe for several years.

Headman Somtunzi, Ciskei’s deputy director general of foreign affairs and information, said by telephone late Friday that despite an intensive police search, neither Charles Sebe nor the two abducted army officers had been found.

Political Implications

South Africa was saying only, “No comment.” South African officials appeared to be surprised and embarrassed by the early morning developments in Ciskei, one of four regions given nominal independence over the past decade.

The jailbreak and abduction could have serious political implications not only for Ciskei and Transkei but for all of eastern Cape province, one of the most troubled and volatile regions of South Africa.

President Lennox Sebe, described by a Ciskei official as “apoplectic with anger,” reportedly asked South Africa to secure his son’s release and to force Transkei to return Charles Sebe to prison. Otherwise, Ciskei might “be forced to go to war,” the official said, although a strip of white South Africa separates the two tribal homelands.

Ciskei, which has a resident population estimated at 750,000 and an area of 1,350 square miles, has been torn by political violence and shaken by one case of corruption after another since receiving “independence” from South Africa in December, 1981. African National Congress guerrillas are active in Ciskei, and anti-government protests are common.

Parliamentary elections had been scheduled for this November but were canceled this week when the ruling party’s candidates were declared elected without opposition after a Ciskei court rejected a rival group’s petition to be registered as a political party, preventing its candidates from competing.

Bomb in Johannesburg

In other developments:

--A bomb exploded in the toilet of a crowded Johannesburg bar at lunchtime Friday, injuring two white men inside and a black passing by outside, according to the government’s Information Bureau, the sole authorized source of news on South Africa’s continuing political violence. The bomb was the latest in a series of daytime explosions in central Johannesburg that appear intended to take the African National Congress’ campaign into “white areas.”

--A 24-year-old white woman, severely injured in an explosion earlier this month at a Durban supermarket, died without regaining consciousness. Monica Strijdom, the divorced mother of two young boys, had been working at the store’s candy counter near the entrance when the bomb, hidden in a shopping bag, exploded behind her.

--Three blacks, a man and two women, narrowly escaped death early Friday when their pickup truck detonated a land mine on a dirt road near an army base in Zululand in Natal province, according to the Information Bureau.

--Del Kevan, the controversial housing director in Soweto, the black satellite city outside Johannesburg, resigned after a pre-dawn explosion that seriously damaged her home Wednesday. After vowing to evict families participating in a four-month-old rent strike in Soweto, she was widely blamed for subsequent clashes with police that led to the deaths of nearly 30 people there last month.

“By staying on in the job, I would be endangering my neighbors who face the risk of another bomb attack being launched against me,” Kevan said. “I believe I had a part to play in Soweto, but I cannot throw down the gauntlet by staying on when I am dealing with faceless terror.

“I can fight my own fears, I can talk and listen to other people’s fears, but I have no answer for people who will not come out into the open and prefer to use terror tactics.”