Main blame for massacre pinned on Ciskei troops

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The Independent Online
THE Goldstone commission of inquiry into political violence condemned the Ciskei Defence Force yesterday for the massacre at Bisho on 7 September, in which 29 unarmed African National Congress demonstrators were shot dead and hundreds were injured.

'One can only conclude,' the report said, 'that the conduct of the Ciskei soldiers was deliberately aimed at causing as many deaths and injuries as possible.' The report, produced at the behest of President F W de Klerk, also criticised African National Congress leaders who, it said, 'knowingly or negligently' exposed their supporters to the dangers of death and injury.

But the report's conclusion made clear that the burden of blame for the massacre fell squarely on the side of the 'homeland' army. 'Whatever criticism may be levelled at the organisation of the demonstration and whatever criticism there may be of the decision to lead the demonstrators through the gap in the fence, they cannot in any way justify or excuse the conduct of the Ciskei soldiers . . . any mitigating factors there may have been are completely overwhelmed by the disregard for human life shown by the soldiers.'

The report called on the Ciskei attorney-general to charge 'any person responsible for death or injury' - an apparent reference to senior homeland officials.

Videos of the shooting provoked 'a feeling of disbelief', the report said. The soldiers' 'indiscriminate and prolonged shooting at innocent demonstrators was morally and legally indefensible.'

The commission, which found there was 'a high probability' that one CDF soldier had been shot dead by his own men, issued recommendations that amounted to:

A call on political leaders not to engage in demonstrations designed to provoke violence.

A recommendation to the ANC to censure those leaders, specifically the Communist Party official Ronnie Kasrils, who led a breakaway group of marchers through a gap in the fence.

A call on Ciskei publicly to acknowledge that CDF members acted reprehensibly and caused unnecessary deaths.

An exhortation to authorities everywhere in South Africa to 'tolerate and allow complete freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly'.

The report underlined this final point on the right to freedom of expression. The appeal was aimed at the governments of Lucas Mangope of Bophuthatswana and of the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, in KwaZulu. ANC threats to stage marches in these two homelands have generated great controversy in recent weeks.

The stated objective of the proposed marches is to protest at prohibitions imposed by the governments on free political activity, specifically ANC political activity.