South Africa's Orchestrated Massacres

THE June 18 massacre at a black squatter camp in South Africa by Inkatha Freedom Party supporters reportedly assisted by South African police was predicted by a carefully documented 100-page report issued by Amnesty International a week before. Amnesty's report characterizes the South African military and police as guilty of "complicity" in the slaughter of over 7,000 blacks in political violence during the past two years.

While noting that all parties, including the African National Congress (ANC), have committed human rights abuses, Amnesty states that the overwhelming majority of victims appear to be affiliated with the ANC and that, in instance after instance, the military and police joined Inkatha attacks against the ANC, transported Inkatha vigilantes in police vehicles, stood by or directed while Inkatha attacked, and intervened to stop ANC supporters from defending themselves.

Amnesty gives the following account of killings at the Sawnieville squatter camp near Johannesburg last year: "The camp was attacked by ... men armed with guns, spears, and other weapons at about 5:30 a.m. on May 12, 1991. Awakened by the sound of gunfire, terrified residents attempted to flee the invaders who, in the words of one survivor, `killed everything they could see.' Twenty-nine people died, 30 others were injured, and over 80 shacks destroyed.

"[E]ye witnesses reported that they had seen white men in camouflage uniforms among the attackers ... shooting at the residents, while black men in red headbands [the insignia of Inkatha Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's supporters] were looting and burning the shacks. [Many witnesses also said] they had seen police or military armored vehicles either unloading groups of black men or moving alongside the armed men as the shooting began. One 48-year-old woman said she saw white police officers shooting from a Hippo [a South African armored personnel carrier], while men with red headbands came out of the vehicle and started burning shacks and stabbing men with spears...."

Amnesty catalogs other evidence of security force responsibility for violence. In November, 1990, a judicial commission, appointed by President Frederik de Klerk to study allegations of government death squads, concluded that a secret South African military unit, calling itself the "Civilian Cooperation Bureau," assassinated anti-apartheid activists.

Ex-police captain Dirk Coetzee alleged he had commanded a police hit squad which killed government opponents and that a senior police official, Gen. Lothar Neethling, prepared poisons for the hit squad's use. General Neethling sued for libel, and, in January of 1991, a South African court pronounced him a liar for denying the allegations and found Mr. Coetzee to be a truthful witness. A month later, a miniature bomb, concealed in the headphones of a tape player and sent to Coetzee, exploded and killed hi s lawyer. Despite calls from South African human rights activists for Neethling's removal, he remains on active duty.

The commission and the court, says Amnesty, "uncovered evidence of murder, poisoning, kidnapping, arson, perjury, and destruction of evidence by members of the South African police and South African Defense Force," yet "not a single prosecution" resulted from their findings.

Today, South Africa's blacks fear for their physical safety if they openly engage in political activity. Five years ago when legally banned, ANC had a tighter political structure than under the current wave of violence. According to Amnesty, "the establishment of more open, active politics after the unbanning of opposition organizations has been rendered impossible in many areas. There seems to be little relation between the politics of negotiation about the `new South Africa' taking place at the nationa l level and the cynicism, distrust, and fear evident at the grass roots."

With all the good reforms Mr. De Klerk has made, it is tempting to disregard the government's ongoing responsibility for violence. But there is clear evidence that, even as the government freed Nelson Mandela, repealed most of apartheid's legal structure, and won approval from white voters to negotiate a new constitution, the military and police, allied to Inkatha, have waged a bloody campaign against the ANC.

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