'We live with death. We will vote. We must': John Carlin saw the carnage of Germiston - and heard how it would not halt the march of democracy

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The Independent Online
'I saw a big ball of flame. The ground shook. Pieces of metal, human flesh and everything were going up in the air. People were running and screaming in every direction. There were bodies everywhere. I couldn't bear to look.'

'It was just like a horror movie . . . pieces of arms, legs, motor-car and taxi were lying around. I stood on a hand.'

Those were the accounts of two witnesses to the explosion at 8.50am yesterday at a taxi rank in the centre of Germiston, a small town on Johannesburg's western edge. When I arrived there an hour later I nearly stood on a foot.

It was a black left foot, with yellow toenails, torn off just below the ankle. It lay on its own in a quiet car park 150 yards away from the bomb blast. I walked on 50 yards and stumbled across a solitary brown shoe containing a blood-soaked sock.

At the scene itself, a narrow road shaded by trees, police and paramedics were picking up pieces of flesh and internal organs, dropping them into brown plastic bags. Other human remains they deposited inside a large blue tarpaulin from which a stream of blood ran down the road alongside the pavement.

Wrapped around one of the trees, like a modern work of art, was a pile of mangled, blackened metal 10ft high. The police said it was the remains of three cars and a trailer where, they believed, the 100kg bomb had been placed. Twelve other minibuses stood alongside, some badly damaged.

Minibus taxis are the favoured form of public transport for most commuters from the black townships. This particular taxi rank services Katlehong, a township which has seen more political killings than any other in the past four years.

Half of the roof of the building closest to the blast had caved in, the masonry was exposed and hundreds of bricks lay on the road. The shops all around bore testimony to the daily bustle here. There were two fast-food outlets, a women's hairdresser, a dry-cleaners, a doctor's rooms, 'Song's Discount Butchery' and what might best be described as a witch-doctor's chemist - a muti shop. In local parlance, muti is the generic name for the potions used to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck or provide safety in battle.

The windows of every retailer had been shattered except the muti shop's. Through the window I saw rows of wooden charms, an ostrich head, animal bones, bracelets, incense sticks and jars with yellow and white powders commonly mixed with animal blood to make muti of the kind you smear over parts of your body.

Isaac, a taxi owner whose vehicle the blast spared, laughed when I told him about the muti shop. 'If you believe in it,' he said, 'it works. The owner of the shop must believe in it.'

Isaac, a smartly-dressed, 32- year-old black man, was standing behind a police cordon, 100 yards away from the wreckage. A crowd had gathered to watch, and we struck up a conversation. Did he think people would now be too frightened to vote in the election? 'No ways. No ways] We just have to go for it. They won't stop us. We're used to this, working in Katlehong. We see killings every day. We live with death. We'll vote. We must.'

A white man cut into our conversation. 'Arrest the bloody bastards] Arrest the right-wing leaders, Hartzenberg, Terreblanche - everybody. They said on TV last week they weren't taking part in the election and they would disrupt it. Arrest the bastards]

'They don't care who they kill. They say they want a volkstaat. What for? How can you have a volkstaat? It's pathetic, man. It's pathetic] We've got our problems in South Africa but now we must hold hands and sort them out.'

Isaac nodded. 'Yes, that's right. It's time to forget the past. We know it will take time but the future will be for our children. The kids will sort it out. They don't see colour like we do.'

Rob, 36, was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He described himself as a businessman and said his four children had been going to primary school with black children for a couple of years now. 'They're best of friends. I had a birthday party for one of my boys at a restaurant the other day and there were seven white kids and three black. The grown-ups, now, they're scared of blacks. But the fact is whites can't do without blacks and blacks can't do without whites.'

It was time to move on. Round the corner, outside the 'Pick and Pay' supermarket, there was another taxi rank. It was teeming with people. The bomb had gone off across the road three hours earlier. Life went on.

(Photograph omitted)