It was an act of terror, government and African National Congress spokesman agreed last night, with political benefits only for those on the extreme right and left seeking to derail negotiations by promoting racial hatred.
Witnesses who survived the attack at the Highgate Hotel, in the port city of East London, said that three black men wearing balaclavas burst in, lobbed a tear-gas canister and a hand grenade and opened fire at random with automatic rifles on people drinking at the bar. Seven were wounded.
The incident, certain to fuel the galloping paranoia among the white population after the death now of 15 whites in such attacks since November, hung like a shadow over the funeral yesterday of the former African National Congress president Oliver Tambo. The ceremony, however, passed off peacefully after soldiers of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, assumed responsibility for keeping law and order - a new development in South Africa.
While Nelson Mandela, the ANC President, was delivering a eulogy on his lifelong friend before 20,000 people, the state President was expressing shock and outrage at the East London killings. 'It is critically important at this time that the leaders of all political parties and groups should exercise maximum restraint,' Mr de Klerk said.
He added security personnel were being deployed in 'very large numbers' around the country, but especially in the East London area. Mr de Klerk criticised the ANC yesterday for its failure to take effective action against those in its ranks - he clearly meant Winnie Mandela and the president of the ANC Youth League, Peter Mokaba - who have issued statements recently inciting crowds to violence.
The South African President's chief concern, he made clear, was the possibility of the far right exploiting a growing fear among whites, founded on the ever-present swartgevaar ('black danger') psychosis, that the majority will exact brutal revenge for past injustices. 'It is also dangerous and unnecessary,' Mr de Klerk said, 'for elements on the right to threaten to mobilise a new military force. South Africa does not need new private armies.'
He explained he was specifically referring to a scheme, devised by a group of former police and army generals, that has recently come to light.
'The Committee of Generals', including a former head of military intelligence, is determined to galvanise the disparate forces of the far right into a united front to confront what they see as a future ANC government's plan to deprive the Afrikaner population of their birthright.
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