Shooting in SA blights hopes for new talks

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The Independent Online
AMID growing optimism that negotiations between the South African government and the African National Congress (ANC) will resume soon, hopes for peace suffered a setback with the news yesterday that two teenage choir girls had died after an apparently random shooting in Alexandra township, near Johannesburg, on Wednesday night.

The killings raised the death toll since Sunday, the eve of the ANC's week-long 'mass action' campaign, above 40. One 13-year-old girl died immediately and a second girl died in hospital yesterday. Ten other members of the Emanuel and Alexandra choirs were injured in the attack. Surviving choir members said from their hospital beds that a group of men 'coming from nowhere' had fired shots from close range.

It was the second unprovoked shooting in Alexandra this week, six people having been gunned down on Tuesday. The response of Alexandra residents has been to blame the Inkatha Freedom Party members of Madala men's hostel, the source of continual violence during the past 18 months. More than 10,000 people marched on the Alexandra government offices on Tuesday to call - not for the first time - for the hostel inmates to be thrown out.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in Cape Town yesterday that the number of deaths during the ANC's mass action campaign had been much lower than feared. But he said that those who had died were 'not just statistics'. 'Even the death of one human being diminishes us all,' he added.

Echoing, as he increasingly has in recent weeks, ANC positions, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner said: 'We urgently need a professional police force which is apolitical and neutral and which acts as a peace-keeping force and law enforcement agency.'

It is movement in this direction that the ANC is demanding from the government prior to resuming negotiations. Nelson Mandela, the ANC leader, spelled out once again at a rally in Pretoria on Wednesday that the ANC's demands fell into three categories: measures to curb political violence; and clear moves towards an interim government and an elected constituent assembly.

It appears that although the government is eager not to be seen to be bowing to ANC demands, to a significant extent it will quietly do so.

Herman Cohen, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, held talks earlier this week with both the government and the ANC. Before returning home on Tuesday night Mr Cohen said he was confident talks would resume soon. He said that he understood the government to be prepared to take clearly defined steps relating to the violence.

Senior government sources, meanwhile, have been leaking to the press suggestions that they plan to speed up the process towards an interim government. Bilateral talks with the ANC, they said, were on the cards. President F W de Klerk himself reinforced the sense that some positive movement was afoot when he told reporters on Wednesday evening that he expected a resumption of talks 'soon'.

Most significant of all, two Democratic Party MPs said on Tuesday after a meeting with Mr Mandela that he had told them he expected talks to resume after a 'cooling-off period' of about 10 days.

The success of the ANC's mass-action campaign this week has strengthened the possibility of a return to the negotiating table. An important, if unstated, objective of the campaign was to narrow the gap that had opened up between the ANC leadership and their grassroots supporters during the six months of negotiations with the government.