Slanging match over SA shooting: Katlehong pins peace hopes on leaders' meeting today

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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICA'S politicians performed their habitual dance on the graves of the dead yesterday, this time taking advantage of the killing of a journalist in Katlehong township on Sunday to score points against their opponents.

The NP, the IFP, the DP and the SAP all hit out at the big 'C', the ANC, effectively blaming them - and not the people who fired the shots - for the incident which left Abdul Shariff, a freelance photographer, dead. The ANC, in turn, said people should not vote for the ruling NP in the April elections because the government was deliberately turning a blind eye to the killing of blacks.

The general point on which the National Party, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Party and the South African Police agreed was that the ANC's Cyril Ramaphosa and Joe Slovo bore responsibility for the shooting because they had ventured into a part of Katlehong - South Africa's Sarajevo - where they should have known they would be unwelcome.

This was Katlehong's Dikule Section, a cluster of houses most of which have been gutted over the last six months by attackers from the neighbouring migrant workers' hostel, an Inkatha bastion just 200 yards away. It was from here that the shots that killed Shariff - narrowly missing Mr Ramaphosa and Mr Slovo and other journalists present - were fired.

The NP said in a statement that the ANC appeared to have 'the intention of committing provocation with their visit'. The South African Police, themselves under attack from the ANC, responded with two remarkable claims: they said they had been on the scene of the incident within one minute of the first shots being fired; and they expressed the suspicion that it had been ANC supporters in Dikule Section who had killed Shariff.

But the half-dozen journalists who remained in the area for 30 minutes after Shariff was killed did not see any policemen. None had any doubt either that the lethal shots had been fired from the hostel. Yet the first action the police took was not to raid the hostel but to go into Dikule Section and kill one local ANC youth and arrest another who had fired back at the hostel defensively with AK-47 rifles.

It was only 12 hours after the event, at four yesterday morning, that the police saw fit to raid the hostel itself - thus giving the attackers ample time to get away.

Yesterday, President F W de Klerk said he and the ANC leader Nelson Mandela would meet in Pretoria today to discuss the attack on the peace mission. Judge Richard Goldstone, who heads an independent commission into all forms of political violence in South Africa, said in a statement he would open a special inquiry on Friday.

Meanwhile, the only sensitive responses to Sunday's incident have come from Mr Ramaphosa and Mr Slovo, the two men who, while arguably rash in having gone where they did, at least have shown the courage, alone among South Africa's political class, to expose themselves to feel what the Katlehong wretches feel. In the township and neighbouring Tokoza, 1,800 people have died in political violence since May.

'Today,' said Mr Slovo an hour after the incident, 'we had a small taste, a very small taste, of what is happening to the people in this area.' 'That was frightening,' said Mr Ramaphosa. 'Even more frightening when you realise people here live under these conditions every day.'