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Experts condemn SA police

PRESIDENT F W de Klerk and his cabinet, embarrassed by British criminal experts' findings on the 'woeful' inadequacy of the South African police, decamped to a secret 'bush' destination yesterday for a two-day policy-making huddle in anticipation of what the African National Congress has billed as a programme of unprecedented protest for majority rule.

The ANC leapt hungrily yesterday on to a report by Dr P A J Waddington, of Reading University, and two British police officers, on the conduct of the South African police before and after the Boipatong massacre of 17 June, in which Inkatha supporters massacred 42 men, women and children. Police conduct, the 50- page report said, had been both 'grossly' and 'woefully' inadequate, as well as 'seriously incompetent'.

The Waddington report compared the civil manner in which the police dealt with the Inkatha hostel-dwellers with the use of tear-gas and bullets against Boipatong residents. As to the investigation itself, it was 'confession-oriented' and, without forensic evidence, was doomed. When police seized weapons from the Inkatha men they threw them on a heap, the report said, making it impossible to link them to individual suspects.

In a statement yesterday the ANC warmly welcomed the findings and drew attention to the fact that Dr Waddington had had the privilege of examining an unusually thorough police investigation.

On 3 August the police will face a new challenge to the even-handedness and restraint that they nevertheless relentlessly profess when the ANC, the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the Communist Party (SACP) - 'the tripartite alliance' - embark on a week of what the ANC secretary-general, Cyril Ramaphosa, called yesterday 'unprecedented mass action'. The protests will take the form of a two-day general strike followed by five days of marches, factory occupations and rallies designed, as Mr Ramaphosa said, 'to bring the government to its knees'.

Earlier this week it had seemed that the campaign was going to be called off after big business - operating under the South African Consultative Committee on Labour Affairs (Saccola) umbrella - and Cosatu reached agreement on a 'charter for peace and democracy'. The accord involved commitment to a one-day industrial shutdown on 3 August, joint action in lieu of a strike, and to a set of democratic principles, including one person, one vote.

But, in what a European diplomat yesterday called a classic failure by negotiators to sell a deal to their constituents, the Saccola negotiators were unable to persuade the rump of their members to accept the notion of a 'day of reconciliation' on 3 August.

Bokkie Botha, the Saccola chairman, said the talks had broken down 'because Cosatu could not commit itself in the way we asked'. Jay Naidoo, the general secretary of Cosatu, said 'an intransigent element in big business was lobbied by the government to deny the country a historic opportunity'. Now, Mr Naidoo said, the only remaining hope lay in the government meeting the ANC alliance demands for an end to the violence and for majority rule.

Chris Hani, the SACP general secretary, said he knew that mass action entailed risks. 'We have no illusions about the consequences,' he said. 'We know that some of our supporters are going to be arrested, some are going to be killed.'

To help try and avoid the death of many more, the United Nations special representative, Cyrus Vance, met leaders of the ANC, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Pan-Africanist Congress yesterday in a Johannesburg hotel. Mr Vance, two days into a ten-day visit, has now held talks with all the leading political parties in South Africa but has been careful, since his arrival on Tuesday night, not to issue any pronouncements.

(Photograph omitted)