Spear-carrying Zulus fall before ANC bullets

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The Independent Online
THE SPEARS and shields lay scattered on the street. Next to them, their owners, dead, dying and wounded Zulu warriors who, with the reckless bravado of their ancestors in the face of Queen Victoria's armies, had ventured too menacingly close to the headquarters of the African National Congress in Johannesburg.

Five Inkatha supporters lay lifeless on King George Street, a pedestrian alley usually busy with shoppers, office workers and muggers just around the corner from the main entrance to the 21-storey ANC building. Three more fallen warriors were close to death. Another 15 sat on the ground, dazed and bleeding, hoping the ambulances would come before the gathering crowd of ANC 'comrades' turned angry.

It was the bloodiest single incident on a day which saw the political violence of the townships come to the centre of Johannesburg for the first time. At least 20 died and nearly 300 were wounded all over the city after Inkatha supporters descended in their thousands from the migrant workers' hostels in the townships that dot Johannesburg's outer perimeter.

The leaders said they were loyal subjects of the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, who had come to express the displeasure of their monarch and his uncle, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, at the decision taken by the ANC and the government to hold elections on the 27th of next month.

The warriors carried guns and marched in a forest of spears, but it was they who suffered the worst casualties. One body lay on the corner of Simmonds and President Streets; another on Sauer and Bree; another on Harrison, between Pritchard and President. The reports varied as to how they died. ANC snipers in nearby buildings, some said. The police, said others.

But it was only at the incident outside the ANC headquarters that there seemed to be any clarity as to what happened. It was ANC security guards who mowed down the Inkatha men.

Ten minutes after the shooting, Penuel Maduna, a member of the ANC national executive, stood outside the main entrance, now guarded by police in bullet-proof vests and soldiers, as well as some 20 ANC security officials with pistols, shotguns and automatic rifles. One man carrying a shotgun over his shoulder was wearing a T-shirt with a 'peace' logo and a blue dove.

Mr Maduna, who looked shaken having just come back from seeing the bodies lying around the corner, said the ANC did not like shooting civilians. 'These are guys used and abused by Inkatha. They had been shooting at us first. The guy heading the group had an AK47. What could we do? Our chaps won't just look on while our headquarters is being attacked.'

Mr Maduna said he himself had been shot at by a group of Inkatha demonstrators as he walked in to work at 7.45am. Then a second group had marched past an hour later. At this stage ANC security personnel were telling reporters that if the Inkatha people 'attacked' one more time, they would simply open fire. A third group came by shortly after 11am, with fatal consequences.

As all this was going on, army and police armoured cars and ambulances - almost the only vehicles on the streets - screeched around the city. Police helicopters flew overhead. Every shop was closed. Small gangs of spear-carrying Inkatha supporters, lacking any clear direction from their leaders as to where they should be, wandered the blood-spattered streets, looking more lost than dangerous. Then suddenly around a corner a phalanx of 200 warriors would charge down the middle of a street.

But the main body of demonstrators, a 3,000-strong impi, or Zulu regiment, spent the morning gathered outside the city library, half a mile away from the ANC headquarters.

On a street corner, on the impi's left flank, lay a corpse guarded by policemen in camouflage uniforms. It was one of the Inkatha men. He lay face-up, covered in newspapers held down against the wind by two blue gym shoes. His feet were bare. A bearded Inkatha elder pushed his way through the police cordon, lifted the newspaper to reveal a hole the size of a golf ball in the back of the man's bleeding head. On a signal from the elder, a dozen men and three women began dancing around the body in a circle, stamping their feet, ullulating.

The black policemen, heavily armed as they were, glanced nervously at each other. 'The police killed him. Attack the police,' the crowd sang, in Zulu.

Who the unknown, dead warrior was, nobody seemed to know. Not the elder, not anyone in the crowd. What is likely is that he was a hostel-dweller who had come to Johannesburg for work. What is also likely is that he leaves behind a family in a rural village in Natal who are now without sustenance and with little understanding of why their provider should have marched into Johannesburg to die.

Someone who perhaps knew the answer was Inkatha's Johannesburg chairman, Themba Khoza, the organiser of yesterday's event. Eleven days ago he was identified by the Goldstone Commission as a key figure in the 'third force' - a paid agent for the last five years of the security police unit which has trained and supplied Inkatha with the guns used in the township wars of the last four years. The plan, the commission said, was to create a climate of such violence that free and fair elections would be impossible.

As a policeman zipped up the white body bag on Harrison Street at about 13.00 yesterday, Mr Khoza and three others drove past in a green Toyota. He slowed down, allowing journalists to catch a glimpse of a small arsenal of automatic weapons on the back seat. How did he feel? 'I feel terrible,' he said, and sped off.

(Photograph omitted)