THE WORLD FROM... Johannesburg
Efforts to meet black aspirations spur more militant responses from troubled white S. Africans
THE pace of change set in motion by President Frederik de Klerk's reforms over the past two years is gaining a momentum that a bewildered white community is battling to absorb.Skip to next paragraph
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In recent weeks there have been growing signs of a spontaneous white backlash in both predictable and surprising quarters.
In the past three weeks alone, a spate of random violence by young white Afrikaners against blacks has occurred in far-flung rural towns. More than a dozen black civilians have been shot dead and more than 25 injured.
Tiaans Snyman, a young friend of former policeman Johannes Saunders, who killed two blacks for no apparrent reason, said in an interview with the Weekly Mail last week: "We are young people and all these changes in the land are so sudden. Where I grew up you didn't bother them [blacks] and they didn't bother you. Now we are eating with them, sleeping with them in the same corridors.... Everything is confused. Sometimes you feel angry, sometimes you feel like your hands are cut off."
In the usually sedate northern suburbs of Johannesburg behavior patterns have taken an unexpected if less menacing turn as the authorities strive to reconcile black aspirations with those of an increasingly angry white middle class.
Attempts to relocate black squatters on open land near white neighborhoods have led to unprecedented displays of white militancy from voters - many of whom have in the past supported the liberal Democratic Party.
Liberal councilors and legislators are inundated with complaints from white voters about the spiralling rate of urban crime and the inability of the police to deal with it. The government is now considering a proposal from liberal Johannesburg councilmen to move armed troops and helicopters into the affluent northern suburbs.
"It seems as though the white community is experiencing a form of future shock as the socio-economic consequences of change begin to make themselves felt," says a Western diplomat.
But the most vivid evidence of the new militancy is to be found in the middle-class area of Randburg where whites are protesting against black squatters being moved into their Bloubosrand neighborhood from a site at Zevenfontein several miles away. Real estate agents estimate that property prices averaging $75,000 have dropped by 30 percent or more since the move became known.
Officials of the African National Congress have urged the government to identify urban land for low-cost housing to prevent the explosive conflict presently unfolding at Bloubosrand.
The dilemma of the government is that most prime urban land has already been allocated to whites who were protected until last June by laws enforcing segregated residential areas.
On Jan. 30 the provincial authorities announced the plan to move 750 squatter families from a site at Zevenfontein to Bloubosrand. On Friday, 350 white residents took to the streets of Randburg in a show of militancy unprecedented in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.
Their anger overflowed when they realized the decision to move the squatters had been made secretly two years ago by the provincial authorities in consultation with the Randburg Council.
In the heyday of apartheid the authorities would have given the squatters notice and bulldozed their shacks without any offer of alternative accommodation.
Now that the government is moving towards being accountable to the black majority such behavior would not wash.