An Assassination In South Africa

AMERICANS fear the increase of violence in their lives. Political assassination, however, remains rare. Such is not the case in South Africa, where nearly every day peaceable people lose their lives to political violence.

I recently visited South Africa with a group of American college professors, physicians, and community leaders. One evening, we dined with a leading black African peacemaker, S'kumbuzo Ngwenya (also Mbatha) in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Natal province. The conversation was open and friendly. After dinner, Ngwenya excused himself to return home.

Suddenly, we heard five gunshots. Several of our delegation ran outside to find Ngwenya slumped over in his car. He had been assassinated - gunned down with close-range shots to his head, neck, and chest. Later, we learned that his killers had probably been stalking him throughout the evening and even days before.

The tragic irony of Ngwenya's death was that he was working for peace between his organization, the African National Congress (ANC), and the Inkatha Freedom Party, the very group that assassinated him.

As a regional official of the ANC and a staff member of a Christian human-rights organization, Ngwenya was well known and highly regarded as a man of peace. But his death reflects the violence that afflicts South Africa. As Ngwenya himself emphasized that evening, political murders in his home province of Natal have claimed more than 6,000 lives within the past five years.

Part of the tragedy of South Africa is that most of the violence has been directed by black Africans against other black Africans. Since 1984, Inkatha has been attacking members of Nelson Mandela's ANC. Representing a small fraction of the population, Inkatha aims to achieve some power by destabilizing the ANC, widely popular among black South Africans. Regrettably, Inkatha violence has been met with violence by some in the ANC.

THIS black-on-black violence has white elements. Ngwenya and many others have been convinced that the South Africa Defense Force (SADF) is supplying Inkatha with money, weapons, transportation, and information, including the whereabouts of ANC officials. The Goldstone Commission, an independent South African judicial commission, has also learned from a former Inkatha official that the SADF had supplied Inkatha with a secret account to finance trained killers to assassinate local ANC leaders, especially t hose working to end the killing in Natal.

How high in the government does complicity in the violence go? Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Tutu has denounced South African President Frederik de Klerk as "either lying or irresponsibly incompetent" if he denies knowing that white security forces are linked to recent killings of black opposition leaders.

Our group spoke with United States embassy officials in South Africa who denied that the highest levels of the South African government are fomenting this violence; nevertheless, these same officials admitted that at least parts of the South African government are promoting violence. Clearly, some whites are going to any length to divide the black African community as a way of preserving their own power - and they obviously remain unchecked, if not encouraged, by the highest levels of government.

On March 17, white voters overwhelmingly endorsed efforts to dismantle apartheid. Despite all the jubilation, dangers remain. Now that the right wing has lost a major constitutional avenue to prevent democratic reform, reactionaries within that wing may continue to promote violence among blacks as a means to divide and conquer. According to one report, 14 blacks died in Soweto alone during the hours while the vote was being tallied.

The horrible reality of violence in South Africa hit me as I saw the dead body of my dinner partner. The next day I saw the rest of that reality when I met Ngwenya's widow and mother.

International pressure has helped bring down some of the worst elements of apartheid. Pressure is needed again on both the South African and US governments to help bring this violence to a halt and to complete the dismantling of apartheid.

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