South African emergency slows black-on-black violence. But signs of anger and fear remain in township
Alexandra, South Africa — The blacks of Alexandra Township are bitter. They are afraid. But at least for now, they are also at peace with one another. ``Before the state of emergency, the young people here, our own people, were killing each other,'' says one resident, referring to the June 12 security crackdown by South Africa's white government. ``I am a nurse. I saw what the violence was doing. And I thank God it is over.''
Others do, too. There is the middle-aged man whose son is a ``comrade'' -- one of the young radicals who have been combatting other blacks allegedly ``collaborating'' with the government in townships nationwide.
The boy knew his father worried about his activities but tried to ease the burden by making light of it: ``He would leave home to go out and he'd say: `Aren't you going to walk me to the front gate? It may be the last time you have that chance.' ''
During the first period of the political violence that has raged almost exclusively in black areas of South Africa for the past 21 months, Alexandra was relatively quiet. But in periodic explosions of violence since the beginning of this year, official figures show, nearly three dozen people have been killed. Community leaders put the figure at more than twice that many.
In April, eight anti-apartheid activists were killed in fire-bomb attacks on their homes. Officials have said they are investigating residents' allegations that the attacks were mounted jointly by black ``vigilantes'' and members of the police force.
Some comrades are now in jail, netted in a swoop on hundreds of anti-apartheid activists under the state of emergency. ``Others have gone into hiding,'' says one teen-ager. ``There is no way you will find them now.''
He lolls on the corner of one of Alexandra's unpaved streets with a half-dozen other youths. Such gatherings, now as before the emergency, are hallmarks of one of the country's few black townships that lie within a stone's throw of the homes, swimming pools, and tennis courts of a white city -- Johannesburg.
Before the emergency, there was a challenge in a comrade's eyes when a white reporter approached. Now there seems to be merely suspicion.
``The state of emergency will be lifted,'' he says, adding remarks about what will follow that cannot be quoted under state-of-emergency media restrictions.
But, according to another of the youths, South Africa's balance of forces is such that the violent ``defeat of apartheid'' is impossible. And, another youngster remarks that the pre-emergency violence, in any case, seems to him to have been misguided. ``We were killing each other, not our enemies,'' he says.
One prominent black community leader says that even before the security clampdown, the comrades had sought to end the cycle of violence. ``Some of the boys started visiting houses at night, looking for weapons and confiscating any they found,'' he says.
Other youths took the initiative in ending a longstanding school boycott. But one resident says this move appeared aimed at forcing schools to remain open past a scheduled vacation period before the June 16 anniversary of the 1976 Soweto student uprising.
On that date, the uprising began in Soweto and spread to other townships. When the violence ended, an estimated 575 people were dead. The government, in imposing the state of emergency four days before this year's Soweto anniversary, cited what it said were plans for ``widespread unrest'' throughout the country.
There remain signs of anger and fear -- past and present -- in Alexandra.
A slogan daubed in white paint outside one of the township's jam-packed courtyards refers to the South African Army and police. It cannot legally be quoted.
A black clergyman, declining to offer remarks on the state of emergency, says, ``Let me speak of my personal feelings. . . . I feel I am never safe. Some people in town may not understand your being here. You are white, even though you're just a journalist, trying to understand the situation. I may become a target.''