Blast overshadows election: Fear of far-right onslaught- 9 killed in Johannesburg - Second bomb found

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The Independent Online
NINE people died when a massive car bomb exploded in central Johannesburg yesterday, raising the spectre of a bloody campaign by the white far-right to disrupt South Africa's first all-race elections. Early today police were trying to make safe a second bomb found in a stolen car in the city centre.

Yesterday's bomb, described by police as the largest the city had suffered, ripped out a shop-front, destroyed cars and shattered the windows of tower blocks close to both the national and the regional headquarters of the African National Congress. Damage extended for five blocks.

The victims included a regional ANC candidate, Susan Keane, who was decapitated as she sat at the wheel of her car. The 92 injured included Simon Walker, a British photographer with the Times, who had cuts to his head and hands. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but suspicion fell on the diehard white ultra-right, which has threatened to wage war on multi-racial South Africa.

'The right-wing volcano we all thought was just about extinct could be about to blow,' David Welsh, a leading commentator on South African politics, said last night. 'I fear we may have been a little bit premature in dismissing the right-wing threat.'

All parties contesting the election condemned the bombing and said it must not be allowed to sabotage the country's first fully democratic election, which begins tomorrow. But the bomb roused fears of further attacks. Tokyo Sexwale, ANC candidate for premiership of the Johannesburg region, said: 'I doubt if this is a one- off. The killers are out there.'

Security experts called on the police to use emergency powers to detain likely right-wing terrorists. Suspicions remain about possible links between pro-apartheid forces and dissidents within the security services. Asked who he thought responsible for the bombing, Thabo Mbeki, ANC chairman, said: 'We must look at elements of the white right wing and ultra-right; more specificially, the 'Third Force' among the security forces who have not accepted change.'

Yesterday's bomb exploded at 9.50am in Bree Street, the heart of the city's hotel and office district and half a block from the national headquarters of the ANC in one direction and about the same distance from its regional headquarters in the other. Many of the injured are believed to have been ANC activists.

Police said at least 70 kg of high explosive had been concealed inside or underneath a cream-coloured Audi, which virtually disappeared in the blast. Its remains lay blazing on the pavement. The bomb left a 6ft crater in the street. A witness who spoke to the South African Press Association, identifying himself as Abdullah, said he saw a white man getting out of a white Audi before the explosion. He also spoke of two black men lying spreadeagled in the street next to a Toyota Cressida shortly before the blast.

Soon after the scale of the attack became clear, a crowd of about 300 black people gathered in another part of the city centre, apparently seeking revenge. They dispersed after Carl Niehaus, the ANC press spokesman and a leading white figure in the organisation, intervened. Mr Niehaus said he had no doubt white right-wingers were responsible and that the ANC was the target. But most Afrikaners would be 'absolutely horrified', he said.

Speaking at his final election rally in Durban - campaigning is banned today - the ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, pleaded with supporters to avoid being dragged into a backlash. Gunmen killed four ANC members and wounded 19 in an attack on a bus heading for the rally.

In Tokoza township, two people were shot dead as Inkatha Freedom Party supporters returned from a party rally.

Hernus Kriel, National Party premiership candidate in the Western Cape and national Minister for Law and Order, said of the car bomb: 'Such mindless acts of terrorism will not stop the birth of democracy in South Africa.'

Mandela plea to whites, page 12

Tragedy or triumph? page 16

(Photograph omitted)