South African Elections: Carnage follows Inkatha talks - Nineteen dead in township gunfights as hostel-dwellers and multi-party National Peace-Keeping Force clash

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The Independent Online
BIG SMILES marked the end of talks between the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and President F W de Klerk in Pretoria yesterday. But 50 miles south in Tokoza township, Inkatha supporters resumed their terror campaign after two months of relative peace.

At least 19 people died, a South African photographer included, after gunfights erupted in the township on Sunday night and continued yesterday. The photographer was Ken Oosterbroek of the Johannesburg Star, killed yesterday afternoon in crossfire between Inkatha hostel-dwellers and members of the multi-party National Peace-Keeping Force (NPKF), deployed in the township last week. Two photographers were wounded in the shooting. Tokoza and neighbouring Katlehong, outside Johannesburg, were the most violent townships in South Africa between May last year and January.

About 1,800 people were killed in clashes between Inkatha supporters, pro-ANC self-defence units and the Internal Stability Unit (ISU) of the police. In response to popular clamour, the army replaced the ISU in February. As if by magic, the violence all but ceased. Amid misgivings among township residents, most of whom support the ANC, the South African army was replaced last week by the NPKF, a body specially trained to keep the peace in the election period. The NPKF includes members of the army, the ANC's guerrilla wing and some of the black homeland armies.

The Inkatha hostel-dwellers interpreted the arrival of the NPKF as a declaration of war. On Sunday night, amid reports that gunmen had been bussed up from the Inkatha heartland of Natal province, the war began again.

The self-defence units, dormant since the arrival of the army, took up weapons again in response to Inkatha attacks, and the NPKF were unable to intervene Yesterday sporadic gunfire could be heard around Inkatha's stronghold in Tokoza, Madala hostel. Hostel- dwellers opened fire with automatic rifles on the NPKF members, distinguishable from regular soldiers by by their blue berets.

It was when NPKF troops fired back that Oosterbroek, three times made news photographer of the year in South Africa, was killed. Residents of Tokoza yesterday felt if the NPKF had never entered the township, the killings might have been avoided. They said they rued the day the army had pulled out. In the evening, as if in answer to people's prayers, an army platoon was redeployed in Tokoza.

An Inkatha leader, who has regularly been at the heart of the township violence in the last four years, Themba Khoza, warned yesterday that the disruption would extend to other parts of the Johannesburg area.

After he was forced by the threat of police action to call off a planned march through Johannesburg yesterday, Mr Khoza, Inkatha's top Johannesburg leader, warned his organisation would enforce a stay- away from work in the region, and start 'rolling mass action'. He said that South Africa's currency, the rand, would be the main target of the protests. According to the Goldstone Commission, Mr Khoza has been on the payroll of a secret security police terror unit since 1989.

Yesterday he described the planned campaign as 'civil disobedience in the way that Mahatma Gandhi carried out'.

But there was little of the Gandhi spirit in evidence at the ANC Johannesburg office at the weekend, when at least one security guard locked up four men in a makeshift cell in the basement of the office.

First reports indicate the victims were Inkatha supporters. But the evidence that surfaced after the police intervened suggested otherwise.

The ANC's Johannesburg leader, Tokyo Sexwale, called a press conference at noon in an attempt to limit the damage. He said the security guard had been suspended and handed over to the police, who were present in numbers at the ANC office, for questioning. The security guard, Mxolisi Kali, was then presented to reporters. He said he had captured only one man whom he claimed was a common criminal trying to steal his car. A mystery remains over what exactly happened. The only certainty was that the men were seized on Saturday and held until yesterday morning. One of them, at least, had been badly hurt.