Four die as gunmen rake Cape Town student bar: Rival black radical groups claim responsibility, but suspicion lingers that rightists may be involved

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The Independent Online
A MULTI-RACIAL bar favoured by students in Cape Town was the latest scene of political violence in South Africa that has claimed at least 100 lives in the past 10 days and shows no signs of easing despite approval last month of the country's first non-racial constitution.

Five black gunmen armed with grenades and automatic weapons burst into the packed Heidelberg Tavern, in the liberal Observatory suburb, shortly before midnight on Thursday and murdered four people and wounded at least five before fleeing. A grenade packed with nails failed to explode.

Three of the victims were young women, who one witness said were cowering in a corner and 'jerking around like rag dolls' as bullets hit them. The killers drove up in a pick-up truck and fled in a stolen car later found on the outskirts of Cape Town in Guguletu township. Police refused to speculate on their identity, and offered a 200,000-rand ( pounds 40,000) reward. A man saying he represented the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), the armed wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress, claimed responsibility for the killings in a telephone call to the South African Press Agency (Sapa).

'The Afrikaner regime should expect more attacks,' the caller reportedly said. 'Apla confirms these operations will continue as long as our people don't have the vote . . . Ours is the vote for majority rule. Apla operations will continue as long as our people are being maimed and killed by the SA Defence Force and police.'

Responsibility was also claimed by a caller to Sapa who said he represented a rival underground movement, the Azanian National Liberation Army (Azanla), armed wing of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania.

But, as with similar killings in the past, the identity of the killers and their motives may never be known. The targeting of a liberal multi-racial bar fuelled suspicion that the attackers worked for right- wing groups determined to undermine the transition to democracy.

The African National Congress, condemning the murders, said: 'Such acts of naked terrorism serve only the interests of those who want to destabilise negotiations and prevent free and fair elections.' President F W de Klerk and other political groups also condemned the killings. A PAC spokesman said they should be seen 'in the context of the daily carnage sweeping across our country'.

It was the third such attack on the predominantly white suburbs around Cape Town in the past year. Eleven people died in July when gunmen attacked worshippers at the St James Church.

Earlier this month white extremists killed three black people, including an 11-year-old boy, after forcing their vehicle off the road near the town of Randfontein, west of Johannesburg. Witnesses said that the men, who mutilated their victims, spoke Afrikaans, wore camouflage uniforms and were led by a tall blond man dressed in black.

Most of the 100 people who have died in the past 10 days were black, mainly victims of clashes between the ANC and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's predominantly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, which, along with right-wing Afrikaners, has rejected the new multi-racial constitution and so far refused to contest general elections scheduled for April. Since President de Klerk began his reform of the apartheid system three years ago, at least 13,000 people have died in political violence.

(Photograph omitted)