SA braced for days of angry protest

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The Independent Online
THE South African government yesterday announced the imposition of states of emergency in various regions and the deployment of 3,000 troop reinforcements after the mayhem in Soweto, Cape Town and other cities on Wednesday which resulted in at least eight deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Yesterday most parts of South Africa were calm, the energy of African National Congress supporters angry at the assassination of their leader Chris Hani having been temporarily dissipated. But today the ANC Youth League, in militant mood after the police shot four demonstrators dead in Soweto on Wednesday, are planning a potentially combustible march through central Johannesburg. Schemes are afoot to block roads and erect barricades, according to Youth League officials.

Marches and demonstrations are expected again tomorrow and then on Monday when, in what is certain to be a highly charged atmosphere, Hani's funeral will be held in Soweto.

At a press conference yesterday in Pretoria, the Minister of Justice, Kobie Coetsee, said that certain regions of the country would be declared 'unrest areas', meaning that the police would be in a position to ban public meetings and would be granted extraordinary powers of arrest. The police would be able to carry out arrests without a warrant and hold people up to a month without charges.

While looters ran amok in various parts of South Africa, notably Cape Town, and ANC leaders were woefully incapable of controlling their supporters, questions arose about expanding the powers of the police. The ANC criticised President F W de Klerk for what it called his insensitive decision to resort to 'repression'.

The ANC did accept a measure of the blame, however, for some of the excesses committed by the crowds. 'No region had actually anticipated the massive turn-out and in many instances our preparations were inadequate,' it said. The ANC also congratulated the police in cities such as Port Elizabeth, where they had 'displayed sensitivity and acted with restraint'.

As to the incident in Soweto when police opened fire on a large crowd gathered outside a police station, the ANC condemned the officers responsible, saying they had been reckless, provocative and out of control.

The Deputy Minister of Law and Order, Gert Myburgh, addressing the same press conference as Mr Coetsee yesterday, provided a version of the shootings which flabbergasted those reporters who had witnessed the incident. Mr Myburgh said, first, that the ANC crowd had surrounded the entire one-kilometre circumference of the police station. This was not true. Second, he said the first shots were fired from the crowd at the police. This was also contradicted by all the reporters present.

'If circumstances allow, the police will fire warning shots, tear-gas and rubber bullets. But split-second decisions are taken when lives are at risk,' Mr Myburgh said.

Mr Coetsee implicitly owned up to the South African police's credibility problem when he announced that he had agreed to requests for the investigation into the killing of Chris Hani to be assisted by two (yet to be named) international experts. He said the attorney-general for the Johannesburg area had told him that 'such an addition may allay fears of any cover-up'.

According to the ANC, the answer to the police problem lies ultimately not in international assistance - though it welcomed this move by the government - but in multi-party control over the security forces. A government spokesman responded that such a system might be in place by June.

(Photograph omitted)