Attackers 'escorted by police' at Boipatong: On the day five died in Ivory Park, John Carlin hears evidence about a previous township attack

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The Independent Online
BEFORE dawn yesterday a group of armed men attacked a settlement in a dusty shanty sprawl north of Johannesburg called Ivory Park, killed five people and burnt down six shacks. According to eyewitnesses the attackers shouted 'Where are you, Mandela?' in Zulu, and were escorted on their mission by police armoured vehicles.

The police response was to deny the charge and accuse the ANC of using tragedies for political gain.

An almost identical version of events, to which the police have responded in much the same way, has been provided this week by survivors of the massacre on 17 June in Boipatong, which is 60 miles south of Ivory Park.

The whole truth of what happened in Ivory Park will probably never be made known. The truth of what happened in Boipatong, where 41 died, may. Seven witnesses have testified so far before a judicial commission of inquiry headed by Justice Richard Goldstone that the police assisted in the massacre.

By far the most compelling of the seven has been Ntietsa Moster Xaba, a 21-year-old black municipal policeman who appeared on Wednesday and Thursday.

Either he has been seized by what one sceptical South African journalist described as 'the generalised mass hysteria' - a collective fantasy phenomenon which some say has now spread to Ivory Park - or he has provided the most credible and damning evidence against the police to date.

Constable Xaba, who lives in Boipatong, said he was woken up by gunshots at about 11pm on the night of the massacre. He went outside, he said, and saw four Casspir armoured personnel-carriers and more than 50 armed men wearing headbands. 'I saw two people wearing headbands walking ahead of one Casspir carrying guns. They were shouting 'This is our day]' in Zulu. The Casspir was not chasing them.'

Early the next morning he and eight other Boipatong-based policemen gathered on a street corner to discuss the previous night's events. 'Suddenly a red 'kombi' van appeared. Inside it were young men with guns. 'Here are the police]' they shouted. Then they jumped out and came after us. We fled in all directions.'

He went home where he met his elder brother, who is also a policeman. He said the ANC 'comrades' had burnt down his house. 'I thought: I have to leave the township.' He went home, gathered his things and, on his way out, a group of 'comrades' surrounded him and asked for his gun. 'I said, 'If I had a gun I'd shoot you'.' Then, somehow, he fled to neighbouring Sebokeng.

Later that day a large group of black policemen from the region gathered to air their grievances. 'People complained that we were not given guns when we had to live in dangerous townships. I said: 'I fear the police. I've just seen something I can't believe.' '

But he went ahead later and gave a statement to a police officer recounting what he had seen on the night of the massacre. Some days later a meeting was held by the Boipatong civic association at which it was agreed to readmit the black policemen to the township.

In a rather different spirit, he was then summoned to a police station near Boipatong for a meeting with a white police captain. 'He told me to correct mistakes in my statement. He said that my making mention of 11pm was a mistake. I should change it to nine. I said I was not prepared to change the time. I asked him why he wanted to change the statement, maybe because he was present at the township?

'He said he was going to 'donder' me, because I was lying.' 'Donder' is 'beat up' in Afrikaans - which the captain, in the end, refrained from doing.

Constable Xaba was asked by a lawyer at the end of his testimony if he had found the experience easy. 'It is not easy to give evidence like this. I am afraid.'

Why? 'I have seen bad treatment from the police . . . I think something can happen to me because what I've said does not please many people.'

JOHANNESBURG - The ANC said yesterday it would not resume negotiations with the South African government, dashing hopes for an early revival of talks on democracy, Reuter reports. The ANC had said on Thursday night that it would not go back to the multi-party talks on a democratic constitution suspended in June until 14 demands on ending violence and achieving majority rule were met.

It said a meeting last Sunday between the two sides produced no agreement on the demands.

The Weekly Mail newspaper reported yesterday that an ANC inquiry into charges that dissidents were tortured by its officials in camps in other countries during the 1980s has uncovered 'shocking abuses'.