Violence Clouds S. African Hopes

BLACK South Africans recalled Saturday the painful memories of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre with rising hopes that a long-sought political victory was within reach but fearful that violence could wipe out the gains of three decades.

Sixty-nine unarmed demonstrators and onlookers were gunned down by police in a hail of machine-gun fire here 32 years ago, putting this dusty and remote township south of Johannesburg on the world map. The victims of Sharpeville earned a special place in the history of the black liberation struggle.

Since then, the struggle has made spectacular gains and today stands at the threshold of a new political order.

Blacks have won the right to belong to trade unions (1979), to own their own homes (1986), and to move freely around the country (1986). In 1987, the last laws reserving certain jobs for whites were scrapped, and in 1991 blacks were allowed to buy land anywhere in the country.

But the rate of violent crime and political violence has skyrocketed in recent years. Ten to 12 black South Africans are dying daily in an undeclared war apparently fueled by right-wing elements with links to the security forces. Since 1984, about 12,100 people have died in civil unrest - the vast majority of them black.

On Saturday, the day set aside to commemorate one of the darkest hours in the country's history, signals from the black community were mixed.

On the outskirts of the township known quaintly as Miami Beach, an ANC festival included performances by Miriam Makeba and the cast of the hit musical Sarafina. About 3,000 also came to hear Communist Party chief Chris Hani and ANC Deputy President Walter Sisulu.

A mile up the road at the dilapidated Sharpeville stadium, about 300 turned up to hear the radical Pan-Africanist Congress's president, Clarence Makwethu. There, supporters chanted the PAC's stark "One settler, one bullet" slogan.

In downtown Johannesburg, about 10,000 supporters of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party marched to police headquarters to launch what was billed as a "peace campaign." But at least seven onlookers were injured by demonstrators as they marched with an escort of riot police and troops in combat gear.

The Inkatha supporters demanded the disbanding of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), echoing a standing call by the government.

But ANC President Nelson Mandela told a Sharpeville commemoration rally in Cape Town that the ANC would not disband MK until President Frederik de Klerk disbanded the South African Defense Force (SADF).

Meanwhile, on Friday and Saturday, police arrested 4,000 people - predominantly blacks - in a nationwide crackdown against crime.

Today, in the wake of reforms, black leaders are seeking to end violence and return to constitutional means of struggle. But people like Ernest Sotsu, an ANC official in Sharpeville, believe the most difficult part is still to come.

"We don't believe we will get a democratic government on a plate," he says. "De Klerk has his own agenda. We don't trust him."

He says the police have been encouraging those who seek to destabilize the ANC and sow discord in the black townships. Mr. Sotsu's wife and two of his children were gunned down by assassins in July 1991.

"I fear there will be more bloodshed ... before a nonracial election is held and even after the election," Sotsu says.

Soaring political violence, crime, and continued economic deprivation make the prospect of true equality little more than a distant dream for many blacks.

"To my mind, things are just the same today," says Henry Matsose, a local PAC official.

"Every year, I recall the past and the memory is just as painful," says Mr. Matsose, describing the Sharpeville shootings.

A dignified and soft-spoken man who was 29 when the shootings occurred, Matsose recalls that a policeman had threatened to shoot him if he did not leave the scene.

"I replied: Shoot me now. I am sick of this horror of shooting people without provocation."

"Then my father arrived and the policeman threatened to shoot me if my father did not take me away," he says. "I remember the policeman's hand which held the gun was trembling as he spoke to my father."

As he left the scene, he recalls, the bodies of dead children were being dumped into bags.

"What faces South Africa today is a new kind of divide to replace the racial divide of apartheid," says John Kane-Berman, director of the independent South African Institute of Race Relations.

"On the one hand you have a unionized, urbanized, and educated elite and, on the other, a growing underclass mainly in the rural areas but also in the hostels and informal settlements in the cities," Mr. Kane-Berman says.

Getting rid of the apartheid system, he adds, has freed the country to concentrate on the real problems.

"South Africa can now begin to tackle the challenges of unemployment and economic growth without the hindrance of racial legislation and an unaccountable legislature."

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