SA leaders stand by as death marches on: John Carlin in Johannesburg detects a mood of deep despair over the worsening violence

Plenty of good news in South Africa these days. The national rugby team beat the world champions, Australia, at the weekend; the price of gold, the country's biggest export-earner, is going through the roof; big business, government and the trade unions are cementing an extraordinary alliance for economic progress; and, no less miraculous, the government and the African National Congress are building a new political centre.

Why is it, then, that the national mood is more despairing today than at any point since President F W de Klerk's historic announcement on 2 February 1990 that Nelson Mandela was to be released to negotiate a new, democratic order? Why do Mr de Klerk and Mr Mandela, heroes at one level, look so tragically incompetent on another, so incapable of stopping the bloodshed and holding the centre together?

Because they lack power where it counts. Because, while they have truth and justice and reason in abundance and, between them, the support of the vast majority of South Africans, they lack guns, their country's traditional instrument of political persuasion.

The events of the past 10 days have dramatised once again the two leaders' impotence. Hard on the heels of the church massacre in Cape Town, white right-wingers indiscriminately shot two blacks; on Saturday Inkatha impis stormed out of their hostel stronghold in Tembisa township, north of Johannesburg, and slaughtered 30 neighbourhood innocents; in Tokoza, a more frequent battleground to the east of Johannesburg, 44 died over the weekend. The total number of political killings since 1 June has risen above 800.

President de Klerk and Mr Mandela, meanwhile, play Florence Nightingale. They visit the survivors in hospital - as Mr de Klerk did in Tembisa on Sunday - but have no more power to stop the next slaughter (today? tomorrow?) than the nurses and doctors.

They would if they could. The National Party has no more interest in the violence persisting at this point than the ANC. If elections take place next April as scheduled, the ANC will win and the 'Nats' will come second. When the next elections take place in 1999 Mr de Klerk calculates his party can build on the failures of an ANC-led government and, having forged new alliances, storm to victory.

But, as the Romans knew, to keep the peace you must prepare for war. Where are Mr Mandela's battalions? In the black townships the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, known popularly as MK), acquired, with no justification, a reputation almost as mythical as the ANC leader's, pre-1990.

Today in Tokoza, Tembisa and elsewhere people have stopped bothering to ask the old questions: 'Where is MK? Why aren't they here to defend us?'

As for Mr de Klerk, his armed might is as formidable in theory as in practice it is weak.

His anxiety about the army was exposed for all to see in October last year when he forced through parliament, in the most undemocratic manner, a law granting indemnity to all those involved in the dirty war against 'Communism'.

Only last week, he bowed to military pressure to appoint the head of the army, General Georg Meiring, as overall chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF) when the present incumbent retires in October.

Gen Meiring, it would seem, believes with as much conviction as the new spiritual leader of the far right (former SADF chief Constand Viljoen) that the war against Communism has not ended.

Nine months ago he was issuing public statements denouncing the ANC and making false propaganda claims about violent MK plots. He it was, shamelessly exceeding his mandate, who authorised an elaborate intelligence scheme exposed last year covertly to smear the ANC.

As for the police, an hour-long press conference last Thursday by the Minister of Law and Order, Hernus Kriel, seeking to impress upon the population his resolve to combat violence, served only to reinforce the generalised hopelessness.

The 113,000-strong force was to be increased by 3,500; new equipment was to be issued; higher rewards to be offered. But there was no awareness, as a despondent senior policeman acknowledged last week, of the real problem: solving murders.

'The police solve one - just one - case in Thokoza, say. What happens? Next time the community co-operate in providing witnesses. Then the credibility of the police rises. . .and, most important, the death rate goes right down.'

What are the chances of the police changing the habits and prejudices of decades and taking black lives seriously enough to do their job? 'I've heard the UN is recruiting South Africans to join observer missions in Bosnia and Somalia,' the despondent policeman replied. 'Any idea how I should go about applying?'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot