Robbers clip wings of South Africans

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The Independent Online
YOU'VE heard of highway robbery. Now - always something new out of South Africa - there's airway robbery.

Criminals in the township of Tembisa, north of Johannesburg, opened fire with a 9mm pistol on a civilian helicopter yesterday morning, sending it plummeting to earth, the police said. The pilot and three passengers survived the crash with only slight injuries but one was robbed and another assaulted as he lay on the ground.

One of the passengers had his watch stolen while a black woman who appeared on the scene lost her purse to the thieves. The police said the helicopter had been hired by a company which was trying to recover a truck hijacked in Tembisa earlier in the morning. That was why they had been flying unusually low over the township.

The incident will not go down in the annals of South African crime as a particularly horrific one - there being 20,000 murders last year - but its unique characteristic guaranteed it received prominence in yesterday's afternoon newspapers. That, in turn, will aggravate a spasm of panic that has taken hold of a sector of the white population with only three weeks to go to the country's first democratic elections.

Scare pamphlets have been faxed and delivered in the last week to white residents in the conservative, lower middle-class suburbs on Johannesburg's outer periphery. The pamphlets - some anonymous, some with Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) letterheads - warn people to stockpile supplies for the the three weeks before and after the election. Some of the circulars claimed to have had the endorsement of a respected company of insurance brokers. Yesterday the company took out advertisements in the local press denying it had made any such recommendation.

But such is the ignorance, fear and confusion of some people as the end of the white empire looms that supermarkets have reported record sales of tinned foods, gas canisters, candles and batteries.

The pamphlets have claimed that petrol will be unobtainable over the election period and that black-outs are to be expected. Petrol companies and the state electricity supply company said yesterday they did not anticipate any such problems.

In another symptom of the fear taking hold of some white people, a police colonel in the Eastern Transvaal town of Nelspruit, Johan Botha, said he was on his knees saying his prayers before going to bed when he thought to ask the question: 'What is it, God, that you want from us in South Africa?' Suddenly, according to Colonel Botha, an angel, brilliant and glowing, appeared before him and said: 'I want the whole nation on its knees for one day.'

The colonel said he pleaded with the angel, saying that this was impossible. 'What are a few tears compared to rivers of blood?' the angel replied.

The angel, asked when the nation should pray, said: 'You have 14 days.' The 14 days are up today. According to yesterday's Johannesburg Star, the policeman's vision has met neither scepticism nor incredulity.

Today, The Star reported, plans were afoot for people nation-wide to go down on their knees and pray for peace.

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