South African Election: Afrikaners forced out of their laager: Richard Dowden found no one in Viljoenskroon prepared to man the new barricades and keep the blacks out of town

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THE ATTEMPT by white right- wingers to keep blacks out of their town, by erecting barricades and watch-towers around the perimeter, collapsed last night, nipping in the bud a move which could have sparked similar defiance in many small white towns throughout South Africa. It represents the final failure of the white right wing to hinder the election by legal means, though more bombings and shootings are expected in the next three days.

Following four days of tension and anger, a brief statement from the Orange Free State peace Committee last night said that the town council confirmed its 'total commitment' to co-operation with the security forces and would assist in the removal of the structures in the course of today.

The Mayor of Viljoenskroon, Piet van der Merwe, finally agreed to meet the Independent Electoral Commission, the Peace Committee of the Orange Free State, the army and police. He said yesterday that he would accept the decision of the South African Defence Force and not resist attempts by the army to remove them. 'My personal feeling is that the structures can be taken down if the army thinks we don't need them . . . I am not married to those structures.'

The barriers were put up following a decision at a council meeting 10 days ago to give R20,000 ( pounds 4,000) to Lieutenant W Kiessig, a local schoolteacher and commander of the local home guard, to provide for the security of the town. There was an immediate outcry from all the political parties, inflamed by a comment by the local traffic policeman that the barriers were there to keep out blacks. Taken aback by the ferocity of the reaction from both black and white communities, members of the AWB, the paramilitary force led by Eugene Terre-Blanche, who were involved in the scheme, to erect the barriers, did not try to man the barriers or make a show of force on the streets.

Black people who had to walk past them on their way from Ramulotsi, the township a mile away, to work in the all-white town said they were intimidatory. White businessmen in Viljoenskroon (population 6,000) said they would go bankrupt without black customers from Ramulotsi (population 40,000). Many whites were infuriated by the implication that the town was an AWB bastion. Lawyers acting for the Independent Electoral Commission however said that the law had not been broken unless people were actually stopped, so the IEC was reluctant to act.

The issue has divided the town and soured the atmosphere in the Forum, the body set up in all towns by the Transitional Executive Council, to bring together representatives of the white towns and the black townships to discuss common problems and work towards co-operation.

(Photograph omitted)