Army troops in the troubled independent black homeland of Ciskei seized power in a bloodless coup before dawn Sunday, toppling President Lennox Sebe in a backlash over corruption and human rights abuses, the coup leader announced.
South Africa pledged not to crush the rebellion as thousands of blacks spilled into the streets of the capital of Bisho to celebrate the ouster of the 64-year-old Sebe, who has ruled with an iron hand since the territory accepted Pretoria’s offer of independence in 1981.
Motorists honked horns and armed soldiers guarding government buildings raised clenched fists in solidarity. Crowds chanting “Forward to freedom” and “Down with Sebe” swarmed the national stadium to hear the coup leader’s announcement, witnesses said.
Troops maintained a generally low profile but fired shots in the air when mobs looted and burned shops near the main bus terminal, causing extensive damage, the witnesses said. No injuries were reported.
Led by Brig. O. Josh Gqozo, the coup took place in the early hours Sunday, less than 48 hours after Sebe left the country, reportedly on a trade mission to Taiwan.
There was widespread speculation in Bisho, however, that Sebe fled after learning of his imminent overthrow. His heavily fortified private palace appeared to have been abandoned.
The defense force chief, his deputy and Sebe’s son, Kwane, who headed an elite police unit, were detained, and Cabinet ministers were placed under house arrest.
The military ruler of the nearby black homeland of Transkei said the coup dealt another blow to South Africa’s homelands policy, which has stripped millions of blacks of South African citizenship since 1976 in a bid to relegate blacks to the role of migrant workers in South African cities and in rural gold and coal mines.