Carnage is brought home to suburbia: As South Africa unveils a blueprint for the future, John Carlin in Cape Town finds anger and dismay after 11 people were gunned down in church
Tuesday 27 July 1993
If gunmen had burst into a church in the real Glastonbury and opened fire on the congregation, killing 11 and wounding 56, the shock would not have been much greater that it was yesterday in Kenilworth, where precisely such an attack happened during a service on Sunday.
Outside St James's Church, a modern white building that looks rather more like a school, eyewitnesses, neighbours and bereaved relatives - people for whom the violence in the black townships is, in practical terms, as alien as the Bosnian war - all agreed amid their general confusion that the attack must have been carefully planned.
'It would have been much better - or rather, the consequences would have been infinitely less alarming - if it had been a case of a church member running amok,' said John Muir, a Cape Town city councillor who lives next door to the church. 'The line of thinking which is far more sinister, and unfortunately it is the one that I take, is that it seemed to have been the work of people with military training.'
Robin Carlisle, the Democratic Party MP for Kenilworth, was on the scene immediately after the attack. He pointed out that the attackers had obviously carried out surveillance on St James's (which belongs to the South African Church of England but, evangelical in its emphasis, does not fall under the Archbishop of Canterbury).
'They knew it had a big congregation - one of the biggest of any church in the Cape peninsula. They knew the time of the services. They knew the one side door where they could best fire from and most easily get away. And the way they did it. One hooded guy crashes in, fires a sharp volley, withdraws and makes way for two others who throw a hand grenade each, and then all three - or there might have been a fourth gunman - open fire with automatic rifles. And they also had a driver waiting outside.'
Lorenzo Smith lost his wife in the attack. He was one of several Coloureds (mixed race) people in the congregation. 'The first shots didn't come near us. But then they threw the two hand grenades into the middle of the hall and one of them landed just 10 metres away from us. I was unhurt and so were my two kids. But I looked down and saw my wife on the floor, her leg covered in blood. I didn't realise she was dying until I turned her over.'
Among the dead were three Russian seamen, whose trawler had docked at Cape Town, and three teenage boys. Richard O'Kill, 17, died instantly after he was struck by a bullet. His parents, Clive and Mary O'Kill, had emigrated to England. He had stayed behind to finish school and planned to join them at the end of the year.
Who were the gunmen? Too shocked, none of the bereaved had any answers save to blame 'the evil sweeping this country'. The first suspects on Sunday night, the far-left Azanian People's Liberation Army, denied involvement. Eugene Terreblanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) issued a statement blaming 'the Communists'. Mr Muir saw responsibility lying rather closer to the AWB camp.
'This was a Third Force or a Fifth Column - call it what you like - trying to cause fear and uncertainty in a white population already very nervous at the prospect of democracy and black rule. They're trying to force a wedge between black and whites in order to destroy the national negotiating forum and undermine progress towards elections. If you consider the timing - the day before the unveiling of a draft constitution rejected by the right wing - and the highly emotive target they chose it all fits together.'
As if to prove Mr Muir's point, a man in his twenties who lives 50 metres from the church, said that until now he had kept away from politics. Too afraid to give his name, he explained: 'People like me who have been generally in favour of reform will harden. I never thought I'd get involved but now I wonder about what those generals on the right wing are saying. I felt so helpless when I heard the explosions and the shooting. I feel sort of guilty I couldn't do anything. Maybe I should get a gun, maybe I should go for training.'
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