The policemen of Vosloorus spent Saturday afternoon at a football stadium, sitting cross-legged on the pitch, gawping at the extraordinary spectacle of Nelson Mandela, Mangosuthu Buthelezi (Minister for Home Affairs), and Pik Botha (Minister for Mineral and Energy Affairs) on the back of a yellow police van, waving and grinning to a happy crowd of Inkatha and ANC supporters.
Vosloorus, on Johannesburg's south-easterly periphery, has been at the epicentre of political violence that until recently, threatened, as President Mandela would say, to drown democracy in blood.
Between June last year and April's elections more than 2,000 people had died, victims of a conflict that pitted Inkatha hostel-dwellers and their undeclared allies in the police against communities loyal to the ANC.
Saturday was the day that President Mandela and Chief Buthelezi, the ANC and Inkatha leaders stood before their black supporters - a gesture which the supporters reciprocated in kind; 1,0000 ANC carried, among other 'struggle' paraphernalia, big red Communist Party flags. In their midst a forest of spears revealed the presence of some 300 Inkatha carrying banners announcing their home as Kwesini Hostel, Katlehong's temple of doom.
Phola Park squatter camp in Thokoza used to be viewed as no less menacing a bastion of terror by Inkatha supporters. But when a phalanx of Phola Park ANC warriors, Xhosa tribesmen bearing axes and machetes, entered the stadium, Gertrude Mzizi, a well known local Inkatha official, led them in.
The occasion was National Safety and Security Day, an idea conceived by the police and their ANC minister, Sydney Mufamadi, to launch a national crusade against crime, the cause that unites all South Africans. 'The battle against crime will succeed if the people unite with the police against it,' Mr Mandela declared to loud cheers. 'To succeed, we must break completely with the past.'
The most visible link with the past, in Mr Mandela's cabinet, is Mr Botha, who also served as a minister under John Vorster, P W Botha and F W de Klerk. But with a typically roguish sally or two and an earnest plea for peace, he too won over the crowd.
The challenge would come when Mr Buthelezi, the man ANC supporters most love to hate, took the floor. But a warning in advance by the ANC master of ceremonies to listen 'with discipline' followed by the remarkable introductory cry, 'Viva the Minister of Home Affairs] Viva]', mollified any would- be dissenters.
There was one reminder, however, that the wounds of the past, while maybe healed, were not forgotten. Mr Buthelezi delivered a lengthy speech ('a new culture based on the value of human life must spring out'), but by the time he had finished, half the crowd had walked out.Reuse content