A barrage of automatic gunfire was directed at a peaceful African National Congress (ANC) march against Ciskei's military leader, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo.
Senior ANC officials, among them Cyril Ramaphosa, the Secretary-General, escaped unhurt only by chance, lying flat in the road while bullets flew around them.
The ANC must shoulder some of the blame because it forced a confrontation that always threatened to be bloody. But President F W de Klerk's government in Pretoria and the puppet Ciskei administration will carry ultimate responsibility for the indiscriminate shooting at a march of 70,000
Mr Ramaphosa, shaken and distressed after the slaughter, laid the blame squarely on Pretoria and said it would further hinder negotiations on a post-apartheid
He said: 'We are blaming De Klerk for this and we do it without hesitation. The Ciskei is the creation of the apartheid system and they are responsible for the atrocities committed in its name.
'We do not intend to respond meekly to this latest atrocity. The negotiation process was already in jeopardy before the latest killings. We are being urged to return to negotiations.'
He added: 'Today's events demonstrate, again, that the regime is not committed to creating a climate in which such negotiations can take place . . . We cannot just continue as if flies have died.' The march was the third to demand Brigadier Gqozo's removal. He is accused of turning Ciskei into a centre of covert anti-ANC activity and of running a repressive regime at home.
The penalty for simply criticising his leadership is five years' imprisonment.
The ANC had permission from the South African authorities to march to the Ciskei border and to hold a rally at a stadium about 200 yards inside the frontier, on the edge of the homeland's capital, Bisho. But the protesters were specifically banned from entering Bisho; the ANC had vowed to occupy it until Brigadier Gqozo agreed to leave.
The ANC said beforehand that it intended to defy the order. Although it was aware that Brigadier Gqozo favoured the use of force, the fearsome reaction of his military was out of all proportion to the ANC's defiance.
As the marchers approached, the South African police who had been escorting them pulled away. Mr Ramaphosa walked up to the razor-wire marking the border to talk to members of the National Peace Secretariat, who were acting as intermediaries with the Ciskei military.
A section of the crowd broke away and ran for the stadium. Once inside about 200 people, led by Ronnie Kasrils, an ANC national executive member, headed towards Bisho. At that moment Mr Ramaphosa heard the first shots. 'It's just sheer lunacy. We were talking with the peace accord people and we were told we could march to the stadium when they opened fire,' he said.
There was a short burst of gunfire towards the stadium, followed by a barrage from below and another from a ridge overlooking the first few hundred yards of the demonstration.
The shooting continued virtually without interruption for five minutes as the marchers ran screaming for cover. Some crawled into sewage pipes.
The Ciskei authorities said the ANC fired first and threw hand grenades; no independent witnesses heard any shots from the demonstrators.
The ANC called the accusation a brazen lie. Certainly there were no shots from any of the marchers who remained on the road, where much of the fire was directed.
Hernus Kriel, the South African Law and Order Minister, said that the shooting took place in Ciskei and was nothing to do with South Africa. In fact, several people who died were hit on South African soil as Ciskei troops fired across the border.
Within hours of the killings, Pretoria exposed the falseness of its claim that Ciskei was an independent country over which it had no control.
President de Klerk said South African troops were to be deployed in Bisho to protect industrial property, most of which is owned by white South Africans.
De Klerk's 'lapdog', page 10
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