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Unrest in Black Homeland in S. Africa Leaves 11 Dead

Times Staff Writer

A bitter dispute over South Africa’s homelands policy erupted in weekend rioting, leaving nine black police officers and two civilians dead in Leeuwfontein, a village recently forced by Pretoria to become part of the nominally independent homeland of Bophuthatswana.

Bophuthatswana police went door to door Sunday, arresting at least several hundred residents of the town, including two key tribal leaders. And police helicopters scoured the countryside for others who had fled onto white-owned farms in South Africa seeking refuge. By nightfall, only a few women and children remained in the shacks of the rural community of 18,000.

The melee came six months after South Africa’s white minority-led government decreed that Leeuwfontein and next-door Braklaagte were to become part of Bophuthatswana, a homeland comprising seven separate tracts of land inside South Africa. So far, court challenges to the South African proclamation have been unsuccessful, and the angry residents are seeking permission to appeal.

‘A Desperate Point’

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“It had reached a very desperate point where people had lost faith in anything ever returning to normal,” Aninka Claassens, a spokesman for the Transvaal Rural Action Committee, said in an interview Sunday night. “They had tried everything.”

The Action Committee provides legal support for Leeuwfontein and Braklaagte and has worked extensively in the towns, about 180 miles northwest of Johannesburg.

The violence was the latest in a series of incidents that have hampered Pretoria’s 13-year-old attempt to force blacks into ethnic homelands, thereby depriving them of their South African citizenship. More than 11 million of South Africa’s 26 million blacks live in 10 homelands, four of which, like Bophuthatswana, have been declared independent states but remain almost totally dependent on South Africa.

Little Recognition

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Most of the world refuses to recognize the Pretoria-created homelands as sovereign states. In fact, international anti-apartheid groups have consistently called on entertainers to boycott the Sun City casino resort, which is located in Bophuthatswana and pays taxes to its 12-year-old black government.

The latest trouble broke out Saturday afternoon during a meeting of several thousand Leeuwfontein residents that was called to discuss the efforts to extricate themselves from Bophuthatswana’s control. The town’s population had swelled because it was the end of the month and many migrant workers had returned home with their paychecks.

Some residents said fighting erupted after police arrived to break up the meeting. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, and witnesses said they heard automatic weapons fire.

Four Officers Killed

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The Bophuthatswana authorities said four police officers were killed when their armored personnel carrier was destroyed by a gasoline bomb. South African authorities, who last year stepped in to put down an attempted military coup d’etat in Bophuthatswana’s capital, Mmabatho, said they were not involved in the weekend incidents.

But Paul van der Merwe, a farmer who lives near Leeuwfontein, said he saw South African security forces on Sunday conferring with Bophuthatswana police officials on a remote section of his farm, in South Africa just outside the Bophuthatswana border.

Van der Merwe said dozens of residents of Leeuwfontein have used his farm to escape harassment by the Bophuthatswana police in recent months. And the farmer has refused requests by South African and Bophuthatswana authorities to press charges against the villagers for trespassing, saying he relies on them to help him plant and harvest his 4,000-acre farm and ranch.

“I’m not going to do that. We are neighbors,” he said.

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Before Jan. 1, the land that includes Leeuwfontein and Braklaagte had been part of South Africa, in between two distinct sections of Bophuthatswana. The government proclamation incorporating the two villages into the homeland surprised most residents, who said they had not been consulted, as required by South African law.

The two communities didn’t want to lose their South African citizenship, but they also feared retribution from Bophuthatswana authorities. The region’s Tswana tribal chiefs have been violently opposed to Bophuthatswana’s South Africa-supported president, Lucas Manyane Mangope, also a Tswana chief, since the 1950s.

Patrolled by Police

Since they became part of Bophuthatswana, Leeuwfontein and Braklaagte have been heavily patrolled by the homeland police, and sporadic violence has been reported. Eighty people were injured during a police raid in Leeuwfontein in March, and residents said that the authorities beat or arrested anyone who refused to say they loved Bophuthatswana.

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About one-third of South Africa’s residents--or about half of the nation’s blacks--live in the homelands, which cover only 13% of the country’s land area. Pretoria’s original intent was to counter the increasing demands for black voting rights in South Africa by creating independent states outside white-designated South Africa where the country’s voteless black majority could exercise their political rights.

But the policy has been a drain on Pretoria’s coffers, and it has come under heavy criticism from outside and inside the government in recent years. South Africa spends more than $1 billion annually supporting the homeland governments, but, because the land is generally rugged and the homeland leaders often corrupt, poverty remains endemic.

Times researcher Gigi Maartens contributed to this story.


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