De Klerk ousts rebel gunmen: White extremists expelled by South African troops in Bophuthatswana crisis

Click to follow
SOUTH AFRICAN troops flushed out several thousand armed right- wingers last night from Mmabatho, capital of the Bophuthatswana 'homeland', ignominiously ending their efforts to help Lucas Mangope, its embattled dictator.

It was the first time the white right, all supporters of the separatist Afrikaner Volksfront, had been tested in their often-stated resolve to go to war in defiance of plans for South Africa's first democratic elections next month.

In a double blow for them, President Mangope - an ally of the Volksfront in the Freedom Alliance - had been forced earlier in the afternoon, after a week of turmoil in the homeland, to back down and agree to take part in the elections.

By late night at least 60 people, including three white extremists, were dead, and hundreds injured. Most died in Mabopane, about 12 miles north of Pretoria, where looting and rioting broke out.

But it was in Mmabatho that the most dramatic events took place. A Bophuthatswana policemen shot and killed two wounded extremists, one of them crying 'Please God help me]', the other saying 'We were sent by the boss'.

Those were the last words they uttered. Seconds later the black policeman stepped up to them, calmly pointed his gun and shot each three times in the head. Then he kicked one the bodies in the ribs.

Five minutes earlier the men, supporters of Eugene Terre- Blanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), had been driving through a residential area of Mmabatho with a third man in a blue Mercedes Benz, shooting at passers-by. Other extremists in vehicles, all of them leaving the city after being forced out by the Bophuthatswana Defence Force, were joining them in the fun.

The police, standing by the side of the road, opened fire on the vehicles. Most got away, but the Mercedes ran off the road after the driver was shot and killed. It was then, as the two men lay wounded on the roadside, that neither their God nor their boss proved capable of coming to the rescue.

In revenge, marauding whites later opened fire indiscriminately on black people on the streets, killing three of them.

The turning point in the Bophuthatswana crisis came yesterday afternoon when President F W de Klerk, after consulting the ANC President, Nelson Mandela, met a Bophuthatswana government delegation. Having fled the capital on Thursday after his security forces had turned against him, Mr Mangope was persuaded, Mr de Klerk said, to see 'the folly of the


Mr de Klerk said the white extremists had performed a criminal act and would now have to face 'everything at the state's disposal'. The Minister of Defence, Kobie Coetsee, then announced that 2,000 soldiers of the South African Defence Force had been dispatched to Bophuthatswana, an 'independent' state according to the last remaining apartheid laws.

When the extremists drove en masse into Mmabatho early yesterday - many wearing the neo-Nazi insignia of the AWB - they had little idea what the day had in store.

The Volksfront leader, Constand Viljoen, convinced that Mr Mangope had fallen victim to a 'Communist ANC plot', had ordered his men in to restore stability, little knowing how reviled the Mangope government is among the vast majority of people in Bophuthatswana.

Looters were forced to flee after the heavily armed Boer 'commandos' arrived, guns blazing. By morning they had control of the town. They guarded the looted buildings and government offices and patrolled the streets in their pick-up trucks, shooting at random.

The tide turned at midday, when the Bophuthatswana Defence Force (BDF) took to the streets in armoured vehicles and herded them out of the town centre like sheep. 'We're going to clean the AWB out of town,' said a white BDF officer, appropriately named Marx. Some fled back to their Western Transvaal farms, but the majority, a convoy of 200 vehicles, headed four miles out of town to the Bophuthatswana air force base, where they set up new defences. Journalists who tried to get close were shot at.

Looting then resumed in the town centre under the benign gaze of the Bophuthatswana security forces, who were making no secret of their political allegiances.

The end came at 17.45. Alerted to the arrival of the SADF, the extremists jumped into their vehicles and left the base in a long, slow trail. But more indignities were to come. Black soldiers of the BDF, lying in ambush in thick grass, opened fire. The extremists turned around and sped back to the SADF for help. This was provided, the armoured cars escorting the convoy far out of town.

Last night, more clashes were reported involving a number of right- wing diehards who remained in Mmabatho. Troops in armoured vehicles patrolled the streets.

(Photograph omitted)