Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Mandela rails at 'corrupt government': Chaotic scenes as thousands gather to attend funeral ceremony of assassinated ANC leader - 'Third force' blamed for latest killings

AROUND 100,000 African National Congress supporters packed into an overflowing Soweto football stadium yesterday to pay their last respects to their assassinated hero, Chris Hani. A quarter of those set off after the ceremony on a 30-mile pilgrimage to his last resting place, a cemetery in a white suburb east of Johannesburg where Hani - who had asked to be lain there - was the first black man to be buried.

The day's toll was six dead, 14 injured, up to a dozen houses looted or burnt and a handful of vehicles set alight. Of the dead, three were ANC supporters allegedly killed by Inkatha gunmen, one was an ANC supporter allegedly shot by a policeman, and two were white men whose charred remains were found inside one of the houses burnt down by ANC youths.

The general feeling among ANC leaders last night, some of whom had initially feared a bloodbath, was that it could have been a lot worse. Indeed, it had been worse on Sunday night in Sebokeng township, south of Johannesburg, where four unidentified black gunmen went on a shooting spree, killing 19 people, including three children.

The shooting, according to ANC officials, bore all the hallmarks of a 'third force' killing, meaning that they were allegedly carried out by hit- men linked to far-right sectors of the security forces.

During the first four hours of daylight yesterday the scenes outside the Soweto stadium were chaotic. Youths pelted police vehicles with stones and one, in a demented gesture, opened fire on a police helicopter with an AK-47 rifle. The police retaliated with tear-gas and gunshots. Running skirmishes continued through the morning and by 10am a black plume of smoke rose behind the stadium from an isolated house near by.

It was exactly at that moment, with the pop-pop of the tear-gas reports ringing in the distance, that Hani's coffin was carried into the stadium. The crowd, raucous until then, rose as one and held an absolute silence for 10 minutes while a brass band on the pitch gave a slow, dirge-like rendering of the always spine-chillingly moving African national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel'i Africa (God bless Africa).

Then the speeches began. Joe Slovo, the chairman of the South African Communist Party, blamed 'the system' and 'the neo-fascist right' for Hani's death. 'Let us warn them,' he said, 'that however many of us they kill, they represent a dying cause. They are cavemen, they are the savages of our land.'

Mzwake Mbuli, 'the people's poet', drove the crowd into a frenzy, extolling 'the tradition of no surrender', and delivering a breathless, booming denunciation of Hani's killers: 'They belong to the dustbin of history. To the museum of shame.'

Nelson Mandela dropped his customary peace rhetoric and, capturing the mood, thundered against President F W de Klerk, his cabinet and his security forces. 'The government is illegitimate, unrepresentative, corrupt and unfit to govern,' he said.

He said that Hani's murder was consistent with a pattern of killings of ANC officials during the last two decades. The third force was to blame, he said, a 'secret web of hit-men and covert operations . . . funded by our taxes'.

The Minister of Law and Order, Hernus Kriel, and the chief of the army, General George Meiring, had spearheaded a propaganda campaign against Hani which had created the climate for his killing. They, he said, 'are as much responsible for the death of Chris Hani as the man who pulled the trigger, and the conspiracy that plotted his murder'.

The longest, noisiest and speediest funeral cortege South Africa had seen then barrelled down the highways to the lower-middle-class white suburb of Elsburg. Most people travelled in buses crammed to three times their capacity. They stood on the roofs, hung out of the windows and clung to the windscreens, half-blocking the drivers' views.

At Elsburg the police were waiting in strength, a handful of gunmen of Eugene Terre-Blanche's AWB among them, tellng all who would listen that they were prepared to shoot. The shots, when they came, were in the cemetery itself: the reverent silence of the crowd was broken as the coffin was lowered, by an ANC man at the graveside in military uniform who fired a salute into the air. That was the cue for half a dozen mourners to let off, amid great excitement, a few anarchic rounds of their own.

(Photograph omitted)