Citizens took to the streets Saturday at the start of a union-backed campaign against the imposition of an unpopular new tax, but fears of fresh violence proved mostly unfounded.
Townships were reported tense, and a police officer was killed in an ambush in Soweto as the country geared up for a national strike Monday and Tuesday that promises to be the biggest show of anti-apartheid muscle for months.
About 500 people marched through central Johannesburg to the municipal tax office to deliver a petition protesting the introduction of value-added tax on goods and services, which unions say unfairly victimizes poor blacks.
President Frederik W. de Klerk and African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela met for 2 1/2 hours Saturday, raising hopes that long-delayed power-sharing talks may be in the offing.
“The discussions were fruitful and constructive. They agreed on follow-up meetings whenever the need arises,” De Klerk’s office said in a brief statement on the talks in Pretoria. Neither side would give other details.
Marches were held in other towns and cities around the country, but monitors said they were peaceful.
In a rival march, about 400 neo-Nazi pro-apartheid extremists demonstrated in rain-swept central Pretoria to protest a government proposal to tighten gun laws.
The crowd, many carrying guns, was addressed by Eugene Terre Blanche, leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, who said a white man in Africa is a dead man if he is not armed.
Anti-tax protesters in Pretoria were persuaded to change the location of their own demonstration in order to avoid a clash with the black- and khaki-shirted extremists.
The Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party has opposed the anti-tax campaign, raising fears of confrontation with its chief anti-apartheid rival and supporter of the strike, Mandela’s ANC.
More than 3,000 have died since August last year in township warfare for political supremacy between the two factions, more than 170 of them since the two movements and the government signed a peace accord Sept. 14.