SA police 'negligent' over killings

THREE criminal cases brought against three sets of Inkatha supporters accused of participating in three township massacres, with a combined death toll of 79, have yielded identical results: all the suspects were acquitted and in each instance the judges criticised the police for their failure adequately to pursue their inquiries.

The latest trial, which ended this week, prompted the African National Congress to call yesterday for an independent inquiry.

On Tuesday in the Supreme Court, Judge C J Botha accused the police of negligence in their investigations after acquitting five Inkatha supporters of the killing of 28 people at Swanieville squatter camp, near Johannesburg, on 12 May 1991. The attack, the court heard, was carried out by about 1,000 Inkatha hostel-dwellers from a nearby township.

Judge Botha, who said it was a 'scandal' so few had been brought to trial, found that the police had escorted the killers back to the township - more than an hour away by foot - and could accordingly have arrested hundreds. The judge remarked that while the escort might have averted further conflict, as the police claimed, he could not understand why they had not made sure they could identify any of the men at a later stage. He noted, too, that he could not exclude the possibility the police themselves had taken part in the massacre. (Such allegations about the police have been made by numerous witnesses to the massacre in Boipatong township last June when Inkatha supporters killed 42.)

In August last year another Supreme Court judge, Henry Daniels, found that the police had deliberately botched a case against another five Inkatha supporters accused of a massacre in Alexandra township in which 13 died. The judge said he was amazed that they had failed to carry out a procedure as basic as testing the one murder weapon they found for fingerprints.

The third case ended in June last year, when seven Inkatha supporters were acquitted of shooting 38 ANC supporters in Sebokeng township. The seven were identified by survivors within hours of the massacre but, the magistrate said, the police had failed to make a proper case against them.

The one exception to the trend revealed by these three cases was in a trial in Natal last April when five policemen - one a white police captain - were sentenced to death after being found to have colluded with Inkatha in the killing of 11 people at a wake in Trust Feeds township.

The two police detectives who successfully investigated that case lived under constant threat from their security police colleagues. The judge found, besides, that a police general, Ronnie van der Westhuizen, had tried to cover up their findings.

Interestingly, yesterday the police said that General van der Westhuizen, now retired, had conducted an internal investigation into the police role in the Swanieville massacre. The general headed a special unit appointed to investigate political violence nation-wide between early 1990 and the end of 1991, a period when some 5,000 people died. His unit did not solve one case.

The National Executive Committee of the ANC officially endorsed yesterday an agreement negotiated earlier this month with the government for an interim government of national unity to rule South Africa for five years after all-race elections are held.