Gunning for a South African race war: Radicals may have lost control of their 'soldier' members

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AT 6am on Wednesday 3 March Police Constable Phasodi Matlala was escorting a baker's delivery van into Alexandra township when a man strolled up to him, pulled out a gun, burst out laughing and shot him dead.

A day later a man calling himself Carl Zimbiri - a code-name - phoned Johannesburg's Citizen newspaper and said the killing had been done by a unit of the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), the armed wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). The attack had not been planned. The unit, he said, had just happened to be in the area when they saw the policeman.

Poems celebrating Carl Zimbiri's deeds were recited at a PAC rally on Sunday attended by its president, Clarence Makwetu. All afternoon the shout 'Carl Zimbiri long live]' echoed around the stadium.

Who is Carl Zimbiri? What is Apla? What is going on in the PAC? These are questions that will occupy President F W de Klerk and his cabinet when they meet this morning in Cape Town to formulate a response to the recent wave of suspected Apla killings - five whites, three black policemen killed at random in the last five days.

Captain Craig Kotze, spokesman for the Minister of Law and Order, said yesterday the police suspected the attacks were being carried out by a handful of Apla renegades who reject the PAC leadership's recent decision to enter multi-party talks. 'To that extent, the Apla tail is wagging the PAC dog.'

The truth, according to PAC sources, is that Mr Makwetu has no control over the Zimbiri faction, whose identity was in fact revealed in an interview last month in the liberal Afrikaans weekly newspaper, Vrye Weekblad. A black reporter on the newspaper, Wally Mbhele, contrived to speak to a self-styled Apla 'soldier' in Katlehong township, where last year a PAC sub-group calling itself 'The Revolutionary Watchdogs' set alight a white schoolteacher.

The unidentified man, who described Mr Makwetu as 'a potato', said he belonged to a cell which killed township policemen. 'Black policemen are standing in the middle between the oppressor and the oppressed. They are half-settlers and therefore deserve to be eliminated.'

'Half-settler' was an allusion to PAC supporters' favourite slogan, 'One settler] One bullet]'

According to the Apla man, 'missions' are planned at what he called weekly 'workshops' in Katlehong run by Apla cadres who have been trained abroad. 'The commanders', as they are known, recruit young radicals from the townships, provide them with a minimum of training and then dispatch them on killing missions.

Every 'soldier' is provided with newspaper telephone numbers and ordered, upon successful completion of a mission, to call and claim responsibility in the name of Carl Zimbiri, the Apla man said. (Warnings too are conveyed by Zimbiri, such as one to various newspapers three weeks ago that whites would soon become targets.) The final objective was to create a climate for racial war - as much Apla's objective, he explained, as that of Eugene Terre-Blanche's Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement).

As for the exiled Apla leadership, three of whom arrived a day late for a recent meeting with the government because they had missed their plane, Mr Mbhele said yesterday they had little control over the Zimbiri faction. 'These guys enjoy killing. The PAC's problem is that they dare not come out hard against them because they have strong support among the grassroots. The PAC is too small to afford a split.'