South Africans Protest Violence on Trains
Anti-apartheid groups plan to begin a week-long boycott of commuter trains Monday to protest the slow response by authorities to escalating violence on the Soweto line
SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA
EACH time Daniel Tsenase boards the 6 a.m. train to his home at the grim men-only Merafe Hostel in Soweto, he takes his life into his hands.Skip to next paragraph
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"I'm really afraid of traveling by train," he says. "I just say to myself everytime: 'God help me, please.' "
The line between the sprawling township complex of Soweto and Johannesburg has become one of the most dangerous train rides in the world.
Even without the violence, taking the train from Soweto to Johannesburg is a grueling experience. The trains are in a state of disrepair. More than half the hydraulic doors are broken and almost all the glass in the windows has disappeared. In winter, commuters face icy winds that rush through the crowded carriages.
Mr. Tsenase is a security guard on night shift at a mining company south of Johannesburg. Like many other black commuters, he travels by train because he cannot afford the bus or taxi fare.
Tsenase says he feels like a helpless bystander in a cycle of revenge and counter-revenge that has turned South Africa's black townships - and even the trains that link them with the cities - into "killing fields."
Since the first major train massacre in September 1990 - when 26 people were killed and 100 injured - many commuters have abandoned the trains and turned to taxis despite the greater cost.
Anti-apartheid groups plan to begin a week-long boycott of the trains Monday to protest the slow response by the authorities.
Following a seven-day sit-in by community leaders at the administrative headquarters of the rail authority, Spoornet, police yesterday announced plans to deploy a combined force of more than 1,200 men on trains, at stations, and along railway lines May 6. Spiraling violence
Since the beginning of the year more than 130 commuters have been killed - either shot, stabbed, or hacked to death - and 235 injured in about 130 attacks on trains and stations.
The four-month death toll already exceeds that of the previous 18 months when about 100 commuters were killed and nearly 500 injured in 34 attacks.
A recent study by a civil rights group, the Independent Board of Inquiry into Informal Repression, found that the train attacks may be carried out at random rather than targeted at any specific group.
"It is possible that the attackers' motives are nothing other than the inducement of sheer terror," the report said.
The study noted that upsurges in the train violence - as with other township violence - usually occur before and after major turns in the multiracial negotiating process for political reforms.
It found that most of the attackers are Zulu-speaking, and all of the 20 or so arrested so far have claimed to be members of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Another pointer to Inkatha's involvement is the fact that attacks often take place close to Zulu-dominated men-only hostels where the attackers frequently seek refuge.
The report concludes that the attacks could also be part of a more sinister "third force" in the South African security forces bent on sabotaging the negotiation process by using the cover of Inkatha and its hostels to launch terror attacks on commuters. First major attack
Anna Maleka, an office assistant in downtown Johannesburg, will never forget the fateful day of Sept. 13, 1990 - the first major attack in the current train violence.
"It was my birthday and I was traveling to work on my usual coach," she says.
"Suddenly I noticed there was blood on my arm but I did not realize I had been shot. Chaos erupted on the carriage. I was close to one of the doors and tried to throw myself off but one of the attackers blocked the door and stabbed me in the back."
Mrs. Maleka was one of the more fortunate victims. Today she has a scar from a bullet wound in her arm and a stab-wound in her back. She says she will never set foot again on a train from Soweto.