JOHANNESBURG — THE South African government yesterday braced itself for township violence and disruptions to business on the eve of two weeks of mass pro-democracy protests by Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC).
The white-led government has put tens of thousands of military reservists on stand-by for the strikes, marches, and boycotts scheduled to begin today, drawing an accusation from the ANC that it is declaring war on its supporters.
The ANC said it had to take to the streets to force the government of reformist President Frederik de Klerk to speed up the transition to multiparty democracy after a deadlock in negotiations last month. "It has become clear that the government currently has no intention of being persuaded by argument to give up power," an ANC statement said.
"We have no choice but to call on the only power at our disposal - the voices of the disenfranchised and oppressed who have waited too long for democracy."
In response, the government has put at least 50,000 of its 500,000-strong white Army, Navy and Air Force reserves, on standby to help police in case of an emergency.
On Sunday, police seized more than 2,000 weapons on a township train in one of the largest arms caches confiscated.
Police denied the Soweto raid was a warning to the ANC. The train was taking people to a rally of the rival Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, which is locked in a township war with the ANC in which 12,000 people have been killed since 1984.
Inkatha opposes the ANC pro-democracy campaign.
The ANC, which has accused police of provoking township wars, condemned a police advertising campaign urging non-violence in the protests.
The campaign juxtaposes photographs of a charred corpse and Martin Luther King under the heading "Mass Action: Which Is It To Be?"
The ANC said the ads insulted the memory of the late black American civil rights campaigner.
In the latest political unrest five blacks were stabbed, burned, or shot to death in Johannesburg townships, police said.