ANC leaders struggle to avert war: John Carlin joins black South Africans marching to their murdered hero's home: 'Yes, we are an angry people. But we will act with calm. There will be no racial war'

Click to follow
MACBETH was harbouring murderous thoughts. Gaunt and brooding, he stood sullenly apart from the crowd of African National Congress supporters gathered at Vosloorus football stadium in memory of their murdered leader, Chris Hani.

His name was Macbeth Ndaba. He was 26, a veteran of the liberation struggle, detained repeatedly by the police since his teens. 'It's very disturbing, very disturbing, very disturbing,' Macbeth said. 'There's a lot of pain. Not just because of Comrade Chris - many others have been killed before him. We should have taken action before. Now we should take revenge. Now we should take up arms against the enemy.'

Were the enemy the whites? 'No, no. Not exactly. It's De Klerk. It's the regime. It's the police.'

I had heard the ANC Youth League was going to organise a rally in Vosloorus. I had also heard that, in an apparently racist attack connected to the Hani killing, three white men had been burnt to death near Cape Town - one after his tongue was cut out.

Unpleasant images washed through my mind as I drove to the township, 20 minutes south-east of Johannesburg. At the stadium I had to pass through the throng to the gate. A group of 'comrades' surrounded my car. 'Press card, please,' said one. I showed it and he gave a thumbs up. 'Fine, comrade. Would you just mind opening the boot?'

Inside, people made way for me, smiled reassuringly - there were perhaps five whites here in a crowd of 3,000. The first speaker, however, felt a need to make certain we - and the broader white public - would be all right. 'Our first principle is that we're a non-racial organisation,' he said in Zulu. 'We're not racists. Anyone here who hates whites does not belong to the ANC.'

The crowd listened but, as the morning passed, became increasingly restless, clamouring for an opportunity to express their grief at Hani's killing. The main speaker was Peter Mokaba, president of the ANC Youth League, who strove to win the crowd over with the fire of his language, to sell his message of peace.

'Yes, we are an angry people, we are an angry organisation, we are an angry nation. The murder of Chris Hani is the murder of the people. We cannot take it any longer. We will act. But we will act with calm and discipline. There will be no racial war.'

To act, in a move not anticipated by Mr Mokaba, meant to march to the police station near by, and then another five miles down the road to render homage at Chris Hani's house in the traditionally white, recently mixed, suburb of Dawn Park.

The crowd, swelled by passers-by, stopped outside the barbed wire fence of the heavily guarded police station. A helicopter circled overhead and two army armoured vehicles drew near.

Beside the police station, on a piece of open ground, four men were practising their golf swings. This used to be a golf course, they explained, but they used it only as a driving range now. They were sad that Hani had died, but also mildly irritated. 'When will these people leave so we can start hitting some balls?'

Amid the pandemonium when the crowd set off for Dawn Park, Mr Mokaba lost sight of his vehicle. Would I give him a lift? He was extremely worried. Some anti-white radicals from the Pan-Africanist Congress seemed to have infiltrated the march. Right-wing gunmen could cut us off. Would the police open fire, as in Soweto on Sunday? 'Chris Hani is the only man in the ANC who could have handled this situation,' he said. 'That's why I have to do this. No one knows who most of the leaders at headquarters are.'

He asked whether we could go up and recce the road to Dawn Park. Easier said than done, with a half- mile wall of marchers blocking our way. I suggested he stick his head out of the window, which he did, and the crowd parted like the Red Sea. Two miles down the open road, we met some 200 African traditionalists, also ANC supporters, carrying spears, machetes and axes. Half a mile on, a dozen plainclothes officers with rifles. Mr Mokaba spoke to each group and reported back, smiling and relaxed, that all would be well.

At Dawn Park, a white family stood on the pavement watching the approaching column, stretching back as far as the eye could see. How were they? 'Frightened]' replied the middle-aged mother, pointing her chin at the marchers, the vanguard of whom were now only a hundred yards away.

'But if they're peaceful, they have a right to do this,' she said. 'It's sad. Chris Hani was a father. He had a family. His neighbour, who was a white man, was terribly upset by his death.'

Her son, in his twenties and wearing only a blue dressing gown, chipped in, more excited than alarmed. 'It's a real 'new South Africa' suburb, this. It's been peaceful here since the black people arrived. Hani helped us organise the neighbourhood watch. We liked him. He said he was for peace and we could see that he was. I used to meet him at

the shops and he'd wave and smile.'

These people seemed oddly at ease. Here it was at last, the ultimate white nightmare: hordes of blacks descending on the suburbs. In a scene never seen in South Africa, the crowd jammed the leafy residential streets, sang songs, shouted slogans and listened to more speeches. There was a moment of panic among ANC officials when the rumour spread that someone was trying to burn a house down. But it wasn't true. One final speech, reminding all 'comrades' that anyone who did harm to white people could not call himself a member of the ANC, and everybody trooped off home in solemn order.

Within minutes no sign remained that Dawn Park had just undergone a historic invasion. 'Phase one,' an ANC official said, 'has gone well.' But today the people of Vosloorus march again, to a neighbouring town. And again tomorrow, on Friday, on Saturday. One spark and anything could happen. Perhaps yesterday was a happy aberration. Maybe Macbeth will have his day.

Mass action starts to roll, page 8

(Photograph omitted)

The worst nightmare, page 18