A police spokesman denied that the move had been timed to discourage people from taking part in next week's planned 'mass action for majority rule' by the African National Congress (ANC) and its trade union allies.
Mr Kriel, taking the unusual step of addressing a press conference in Soweto, said that the aim of the joint police and army operation was 'peace and stabilisation'. 'The peace offensive', as he described it, would be welcomed by 'the silent majority' in the townships, who are fed up with the
The ANC argues that the black majority, silent or not, is fed up with what is perceived to be the security force role in fuelling the political violence, which has claimed more than 7,000 lives in the past two and a half years. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has called a general strike for next Monday and Tuesday.
The arguments of the ANC alliance received a fillip on Tuesday when the Goldstone commission of inquiry into violence criticised the police for failing to prosecute the perpetrators of that South African phenomenon, train killings. More than 300 people have died in the past two years in scores of attacks on commuters by faceless individuals.
The Goldstone report said a special committee established to examine the train killings had been unable to lay the blame on any particular organisation but did point out that 'whenever a group of attackers were identified, they were hostel-dwellers'. The inmates of the single-men's hostels, the report refrained from pointing out, tend to be supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party.
Justice Richard Goldstone's findings came after a week in which, first, the police investigation into the Boipatong massacre of 17 June was branded as 'woefully incompetent' by British criminal experts and, second, a top South African medical pathologist announced that the police routinely murdered suspects they held in custody.
As if to illustrate his point, on Monday the police in Vosloorus township acknowledged that a young man they had arrested had 'collapsed and died'.
Yesterday, the Johannesburg Star revealed that Bongani Makhubela, an ANC member, had been arrested by two plain- clothes policemen on Thursday night. His mother told the Star that they had refused to identify themselves. The last person known to have seen Mr Makhubela alive, a 62-year-old pensioner, said that on Saturday he had appeared to be in good health.
Compounding suspicions still more against the police and their modus operandi, it emerged yesterday that a robbery suspect arrested by the police had plunged eight floors to his death from a Johannesburg block of flats. The warrant officer confirmed that the man, whose name has not been revealed, had been under police guard at the time.
The incident no doubt helped the ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, yesterday in pressing home his case against the security forces in a meeting he held in central Johannesburg with the United Nations special envoy, Cyrus Vance. Neither of the men would reveal what transpired in their conversation, though it is possible that Mr Mandela repeated a request made yesterday by Cosatu for Mr Vance to extend his visit to South Africa beyond Friday, as scheduled, so as to observe proceedings during next week's planned protests.