Scores die in days of SA township street battles: Squatter camp residents accuse police of trying to wreck peace talks, writes Karl Maier

THE TEENAGE boys known as 'comrades' who man the street barricades of stone and metal scraps at the entrance of Mandela Park squatters' camp, are on the front line of a war gripping black townships just 30 miles east of Johannesburg that has claimed up to 70 lives this week.

Street battles between supporters of the African National Congress, Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party and the security forces have been raging since an ANC demonstration through the nearby Tokoza township on 22 May ended in a firefight. The police said they warned the ANC against parading down that route because it passed directly in front of hostels where staunchly pro-Inkatha Zulu workers live.

For residents of Mandela Park, a sprawling camp of nearly 30,000 people who live in rickety tin and wooden shacks, the war began when they tried to join the march into the nearby white town of Aberton to present demands for a speedy conclusion of multi-party negotiations for democratic elections.

By the time they reached Khumalo Road that Saturday morning, the rest of the marchers were in flight as police and residents of the KwaMadala hostel fired into the crowd. 'I saw them aiming at the people,' said Nelson Nikelo, the chairman of the Mandela Park community association. 'They were firing R-4 assault rifles, direct.'

When the Mandela Park residents returned to their homes, they found the Casspirs, police armoured vehicles, circling the squatter camp. When a team of independent monitors arrived from the local Peace Committee, witnesses said, the police fled.

For most of Sunday, Mandela Park stayed clear of the battles between ANC supporters and IFP militants and the police in the adjacent townships of Tokoza and Katlehong. The respite was shortlived. On Sunday night, several Casspirs arrived at the barricades at the camp's entrance and began launching tear-gas canisters and firing birdshot into the area. After several minutes they opened up with live ammunition, killing one man.

The Casspirs returned the next day, but this time the police surrounded the camp, apparently searching for weapons. A police helicopter hovered overhead, as the police again began by launching tear-gas down the narrow alleyways and ended by firing live ammunition. A man was killed as he fled his home.

By 5.30am on Tuesday, the security forces were back. Several residents said the first thing they remembered upon awaking that morning was the smell of tear-gas pouring through their shacks. Heavy shooting left 15 people wounded and one dead.

Several hours later Winnie Mandela, the estranged wife of ANC president Nelson Mandela, arrived to address a rally. As she finished her speech, the Casspirs roared up and dispersed residents with tear-gas and birdshot. Another eight people were wounded. Mandela Park joined the other townships in launching a two-day stayaway.

Wednesday saw the police come at 10.30am, shouting 'The ANC is shit' and 'The ANC is not going to take you anywhere'. Another round of tear- gas and birdshot left five people wounded. Later that day, Tokyo Sexwale of the ANC's National Executive came and told camp residents that they were justified in fighting but only in self-defence. He told them to return to work; they did so the next day.

The police have justified their assaults on Mandela Park and other black residential areas by saying they are searching for gunmen. In this week's battles on the East Rand the security forces have certainly suffered casualties; many Casspirs have bullet holes confirming they have taken fire. But in the view of Mandela Park residents, the police are the enemy, submitting them to repeated raids in an effort to thwart the multi-party negotiations to end white rule.

'These people want to wreck the talks, because certain parties will claim we cannot go to elections while there is so much violence,' Mr Nikelo said. President F W de Klerk 'is trying to stall the day of freedom'.

The government declared Tokoza, Tembisa and Katlehong townships as unrest areas yesterday and the police imposed overnight curfews.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape