Five whites and three policemen shot dead in South Africa: John Carlin on how black gunmen have kept their grim promise

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The Independent Online
JOHANNESBURG - Black gunmen have killed eight people, three of them policemen, in a series of attacks since Friday, the latest victim a 55- year-old white motorist shot dead on his way to work yesterday morning on a road south of Johannesburg.

The Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), the armed wing of the radical Pan-Africanist Congress, claimed responsibility for an almost identical attack in the same area on Friday morning in which a white woman and her teenage son were killed and a 13-year-old girl died later in hospital. The police suspect that Apla elements have been responsible for all eight of the killings.

One policeman died in Vosloorus township, south-east of Johannesburg, on Saturday; another in central Johannesburg on Sunday; and a third in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, just after midnight yesterday. The number of policemen murdered in South Africa so far this year now stands at 41, a spokesman said yesterday.

In the one incident to occur outside the Johannesburg area, three gunmen burst into a motel in Fort Beaufort, in the Eastern Cape, on Saturday night and killed an 18-year-old white youth attending a school reunion.

A vivid account of Friday morning's incident was provided by the Johannesburg Star in an interview with an unidentified black man, the owner of an old BMW, who said he was hijacked and forced by the Apla gunmen to drive them to and from the scene of the killing.

The man, who is under police protection, said his passengers had initially hoped to target a bus carrying white schoolchildren. Instead, to shouts of 'It's full of whites]', they fired at a station wagon carrying a woman and four teenagers. The 13- year-old girl who died, Claire Silberbauer, had undergone numerous brain operations to overcome an epilepsy problem developed after she fractured her skull seven years ago. It was only in January this year that she finally overcame her illness.

Another clue as to what is going on in the minds of the killers was provided by a white motorist who said he was lucky to be alive after having been forced off the road, again in the same area of Johannesburg, by three black gunmen on Saturday night. They beat him and set his car alight, leaving him for dead. One of his assailants told him: 'We are going to kill all the old white people and white children. This will be a year of terror.'

The official response of the PAC has been confusing. The information secretary, Barney Desai, unequivocally condemned Friday's killing in a television interview on Sunday night. Earlier in the day, however, the PAC president, Clarence Makwetu, declared at a political rally - to chants of 'One settler] One bullet]' - that the 'armed struggle' continued and that his supporters should brace themselves for 'a bitter struggle'.

However, both the PAC leadership and the exiled Apla leadership have denied any hand in the recent attacks. A spokesman for the African National Congress noted yesterday, after condemning the killings, that the gunmen were almost certainly a dissident PAC faction angered by their leaders' recent decision to participate in multi-party negotiations.