Afrikaner rally ends a week of violence

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The Independent Online
AN AFRIKANER Resistance Movement (AWB) rally yesterday provided an ominous conclusion to the worst week of political violence that South Africa has seen this year.

Police in Schweizer-Reneke, a three hours' drive west of Johannesburg, were out in force. They broke precedent by confiscating all the weapons they could find from supporters of Eugene Terreblanche's AWB, thus ensuring that, despite an African National Congress gathering in the neighbouring black township, the day went off peacefully.

But Mr Terreblanche, who in his childhood would force his schoolmates to listen to his recitals of Hitler's speeches, sat on his white horse, hugged children and promised a third world war under the adoring gaze of a few hundred men and women in khaki uniforms, some of whom waved flags and carried banners with the AWB's red and black swastika- like insignia.

The occasion was arranged by the authorities to bestow the freedom of the town on the AWB 'wenkommando', its private army.

At Ipelegeng township, where 83 per cent of the local population lives, the local ANC branch marked the day with a counter-ceremony: the conferral of freedom of the township on Joe Modise, the commander of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Asked whether they planned to mark march on the town centre, the ANC youths replied: 'You must be joking]'

This was a far cry from the horror the Johannesburg area had experienced in the past few days. On Sunday in Tembisa township, north of the city, the relative calm of the past year came to a shattering end when, in a resumption of the style of slaughter local Inkatha supporters seemed to have abandoned, 200 men stormed out of a single-men's hostel, some armed with AK-47 rifles, and killed 31 local people.

On the same day in Katlehong and neighbouring Thokoza, where violence has raged all year, 24 people died in clashes between Inkatha hostel-dwellers and pro-ANC residents.

On Monday, Tembisa was quiet, but Katlehong, where more than 200 died in July, continued to boil over. The police, who rarely criticise Inkatha, blamed ANC 'comrades', who in turn repeated the old refrain that Inkatha and the police were working hand in hand and called for the formation of a joint peace- keeping force. By nightfall, the death toll had risen to 80.

Tuesday saw more of the same, except residents had barricaded every street corner to hamper the mobility of the police and prevent unknown gunmen from driving around the township and shooting at random. The police, who until now had been conspicuous by their absence in Katlehong, put the death toll at 30.

On Wednesday, the burial of five ANC victims in the township occasioned a gun battle between police and 'comrades' belonging to the ANC's local 'self-defence units'.

Three residents died during the shoot-out, including a 13- year-old boy run over by a police armoured vehicle.

Meanwhile in Pretoria, the cabinet ordered a massive deployment of troops and police in the area. General Johan Swart of the police said that light machine guns would be mounted on armoured vehicles. 'We are fed up with the murder of policemen,' he said.

Thursday saw the arrival of Nelson Mandela in Katlehong. 'To the government, the police and the army, black lives are cheap,' he told a rally. 'It is as if flies had died.'

But the ANC president warned his supporters that anyone who killed innocent people 'did not belong to the ANC'. The display of military hardware on Katlehong's dusty streets evoked images of Operation Desert Storm. That night, Mr Mandela met President F W de Klerk for four hours of 'crisis talks'.

Friday witnessed the sinister re-emergence of train terrorism, with unknown gunmen bursting into a railway carriage full of Johannesburg-bound commuters. Five were killed. The victims had been singing freedom songs before the incident. Train attacks, which claimed more than 300 lives between July 1990 and July 1992, had since virtually disappeared.

Yesterday it appeared that the security force crackdown in Katlehong had yielded results. Police reported finding only seven bodies early in the morning. The death toll for the week in the Johannesburg area stood close to 180.