SA massacre revives spectre of 'third force'

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The Independent Online
A massacre of job-seekers in Johannesburg yesterday has raised fears that a "third force" is again stoking black-on-black violence in South Africa in order to undermine the government of President Nelson Mandela.

At least eight men were killed and 24 wounded when unidentified gunmen opened fire on 5,000 people waiting for the chance of a job outside the NF Die Casting factory in an industrial park at Alrode, southern Johannesburg.

According to the ruling African National Congress, the attack bore the hallmark of "third force" activities that plagued greater Johannesburg in the run-up to the historic 1994 elections. The third force was the name given to a shadowy alliance between right-wing elements in the security forces and the conservative Zulu-based political party, Inkatha.

Security guards and survivors interviewed at the plant and a local hospital said the trouble started at around 3am, when a group of eight men tried to jump the huge queue that had formed outside the plant the night before. When the men were told to join the back of the line, they pulled out AK- 47 assault rifles and 9mm automatic weapons and started shooting into the crowd without warning.

The gunmen then fled on foot. Some of the victims, bleeding from bullet wounds, staggered more than half a mile from the scene of the attack before collapsing. Both attackers and victims were black. Hours after the incident, pools of blood, discarded shoes and spent bullet casings were all the evidence left of the slaughter.

One wounded man at the Natalspruit hospital, who was too frightened to give his name, claimed that he was the first person shot by the gunmen. He said that when the men first approached the queue, he had the impression that they were looking to start trouble rather than find work. "I don't know why anybody would want to shoot honest men trying to support their families," said the man, who was wounded in the leg.

Since the election, most ANC-Inkatha violence has been limited to KwaZulu- Natal, where the two parties are involved in a bloody war for control of the province. There is evidence that the violence there is being fomented by outside right-wing elements.

Other than "third force" activities, several alternative motives for the attack have been offered, including tensions between two rival unions at the plant and the intense competition for jobs.

Although South Africa's economy is booming, unemployment remains very high, particularly among the black majority. Rumours of 200 new jobs at the plant caused thousands of men from the nearby East Rand townships of Thokoza, Kathlehong and Vosloorus to descend on the industrial estate 13 hours before the gates opened.

Police have so far suggested no motive for the incident but have announced that they intend to establish a witness protection programme for survivors - a move which suggests that the attack was more than a violent outburst by angry unemployed men.