Violence Marks General Strike Over New Tax in South Africa

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TEN people died in clashes Sunday evening at a gold mine near Welkom in South Africa's Orange Free State, marking a violent start to a two-day general strike called by unions and anti-apartheid groups over the new value-added tax.Anglo American Corporation of South Africa Ltd. spokesman James Duncan said the violence erupted when a group of employees tried to prevent others from starting the night shift at the President Steyn Mine. Mr. Duncan said the attempt to stop employees from going to work appeared to be in support of the strike, which analysts said was becoming a showdown between rival groups over South Africa's future. Thirty-two miners were injured in the clashes. Mine security, backed by South African police, intervened to separate the fighting groups. Police earlier reported that seven people died in sporadic outbreaks of violence over the weekend in black townships around Johannesburg. Eyewitnesses said trains leaving black townships for Johannesburg on Monday morning were deserted. Taxis were empty. Police, unions, and peace monitors had appealed for calm during the strike. The strike has taken on wider significance than a display of opposition to the implementation of a value-added tax (VAT) on goods and services, which unions say victimizes poor blacks. Unions and most black movements want the strike to show the muscle of the anti-apartheid lobby, while the government is determined to demonstrate its grip on power until a nonracial Constitution is adopted. In an unconfirmed report, state-run South African Television said Monday five people were killed in fighting in Natal province between supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) and its rival, the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party. The strike has divided the anti-apartheid movement, with Inkatha calling on blacks to ignore it. "Let peace prevail on Monday and Tuesday," ANC deputy president Walter Sisulu had said in a last-minute plea for calm before the strike. "There is no need for this stay-at-home to involve death and shootings. Refrain from acting in a manner that will cause injury and death to your fellow citizens," he said. Law and Order Minister Hernus Kriel said the strike could cost the country $900 million and result in 70,000 job losses. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), chief coordinator of the protest, accused Inkatha and the government of causing strike hysteria which fostered an atmosphere of violence. "At a time when we have called for maximum discipline and self-restraint, government ministers and Inkatha appear to be doing their best to whip up hysteria and a fear psychosis around the general strike," a COSATU spokesman said. Mr. Kriel said the strike would test how serious COSATU was about a recent national peace accord which it signed along with leading political and business groups.

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