Ciskei leader bends to pressure for poll: Gqozo apologises to churchmen for massacre of ANC marchers

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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICAN church leaders said yesterday that Brigadier Oupa Gqozo, Ciskei's military leader, has agreed to put his popularity to the test with his black homeland's million people, after apologising to the clergymen for the massacre of 28 African National Congress supporters demonstrating against him.

However, the two sides differ on the method and timing. Last night church leaders, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were awaiting a response to their proposal for a referendum within six weeks. The Brigadier favours longer-term elections, dismissed by the church as a ploy for holding on to power.

Nelson Mandela, the ANC President, after laying flowers at the site of the killings, repeated his demand that Brigadier Gqozo be removed from office immediately, presumably by his sponsors in Pretoria. But the ANC would claim a victory of sorts if Ciskei's leader agreed to a referendum.

One of the churchmen at the meeting with Brigadier Gqozo, the Rev Simon Gquble, described him as highly emotional during discussions yesterday. 'We dug an apology out of him and he said he was sorry for what happened. We wanted him to agree to a referendum but he dropped the word, and asked for a testing of the will of the people . . . If he agrees to a referendum he's agreeing to his demise. He has no chance of winning it and he knows that,' Mr Gquble said.

Nevertheless, Frank Chikane, the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, remains confident that some kind of agreement will be forthcoming. This suggests that, as the church plan has also been put to Pretoria, there might be pressure from other quarters. 'If it doesn't happen and the repression increases, there will be a spiral of violence and counter-violence,' he warned.

Brigadier Gqozo kept alive the accusations and counter-accusations over responsibility for the slaughter. He claimed his men had found a map dropped at the scene showing the demonstrators planned to invade Ciskei. 'We found a map with arrows showing exactly where they were going to thrust and rush through the barricades and run over the police and military. At that moment, with instinctive reaction, our forces opened fire. No one had a chance to give any warning. No one could give any warning,' he said.

Later he changed his mind and said there had been a warning after all. Mr Mandela accused the Ciskei military of using lethal force as the first option in circumstances that did not remotely warrant it. 'The staccato of those automatic weapons added one more grisly episode to the already bloodstained annals of twentieth- century South Africa . . . from this day, Bisho will rank alongside Boipatong on that roll call of infamy that recounts the past few years of F W de Klerk's incumbency,' he said.

But unlike the Boipatong township massacre in July, which led the ANC to call off constitutional negotiations, Mr Mandela indicated that the Ciskei killings would not lead to a break in the ANC's few remaining contacts with the government. Instead it reinforced the ANC's demand that Mr de Klerk meet its 14-point plan to tackle violence before constitutional talks resume.

The ANC also shied away from further immediate confrontations. After a rally yesterday of about 5,000 people at the Victoria Park cricket ground, where the march on Bisho began, Mr Mandela urged his supporters to go home peacefully.

Similarly, about 1,000 ANC demonstrators, who had taken part in Monday's protest and maintained an all-night vigil for the dead on the Ciskei border, dispersed at Mr Mandela's request. Earlier, Archbishop Tutu led a memorial service at the site. He said he had come to console those fired on by Ciskei troops, remarking bitterly that in South Africa today he always seemed to be consoling the bereaved.

The crowd listened silently, so that at one point the Archbishop asked why they were so quiet. But the anger still shows, reflected in warnings from Chris Hani, the Communist Party leader, who said the Ciskei soldiers who shot at the demonstrators would one day be made to pay the price.

Ronnie Kasrils, the ANC National Executive Committee member who was at the forefront of the crowd charge that led to Ciskei troops opening fire, received a rousing cheer when he said the suspension of the armed struggle would have to be re-evaluated in the light of the killings.

(Photograph omitted)