Bophuthatswana: A Pillar of Apartheid Falls

Violent collapse of homeland has turned the tide against forces trying to sabotage South Africa's all-race elections

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

PRESIDENT Lucas Mangope, ruler of the fragmented black homeland of Bophuthatswana for 15 years, was removed from office early yesterday by the South African government, which during the heyday of apartheid created the homeland and installed the dictatorial leader.

The South African Defense Force (SADF) was welcomed Saturday by the residents of Bophuthatswana as though it was a liberation army, as it drove out some 2,000-odd armed white right-wingers who had come to support Mr. Mangope and thus sealed a popular coup against him.

President Mangope, who had spurred popular protests by saying the homeland would not participate in the all-race South African election on April 27, backpedaled on Friday to say he would take part in the vote. But he later refused to give the necessary assurances that the campaign and ballot would be free and fair in his territory.

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The removal of Mangope, regarded by most of his Tswana subjects as corrupt, followed days of street fighting and looting in which at least 25 people were killed. Most victims were black civilians.

South Africa's ambassador to the homeland had been placed in administrative charge of the area. The Pretoria government announced Saturday a virtual state of emergency in 53 towns and cities mainly in the white right-wing strongholds of Transvaal and Orange Free State provinces.

The ousting of Mangope - and of the white right-wing forces that traveled here at his request to help him - has turned the tide against those forces trying to sabotage the country's first nonracial ballot.

The tumultuous events over the past week have also opened a deep split in the white right between the more moderate faction loyal to Gen. Constand Viljoen, former co-leader of the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), and the neo-Fascist Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) of Eugene TerreBlanche.

The heavily armed members of the white right-wing, who arrived here in convoys Thursday night, suffered a humiliating defeat when they were led out Friday night by members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force - and later the SADF.

It was during the early stages of the withdrawal by a convoy of the AWB just after midday on Friday that BDF troops shot at an automobile carrying right-wingers - killing one and wounding two of the khaki-clad men. As the two badly injured men lay on the ground talking to journalists, they were executed at point-blank range by an angry Bophuthatswana soldier in camouflage.

Political analysts fear the television images of the shootings could spark a huge wave of revenge against innocent black South Africans. ``The executions have created martyrs and, I fear, an enormous backlash by AWB supporters, and gratuitous killings of blacks,'' says Cape Town University political scientist David Welsh.

``If the authorities want to stop a confrontation, there will have to be swift pre-emptive action against the white right and elements in the IFP which are planning to disrupt the election,'' he adds. ``At the very least, the training of IFP guerrillas by white right-wingers must cease immediately.''

Three journalists, including Paul Taylor of The Washington Post and this reporter, were attacked and beaten by members of the extremist Afrikaner Resistance Movement as the convoys left the city. When the reporters fled, the assailants chased them in pick-up trucks and attacked them again.

General Viljoen, who resigned as AVF co-leader Saturday citing irreconcilable differences in the leadership, confirmed the registration Friday of the Freedom Front, a new vehicle for right-wing participation in the election. The decision has opened what is likely to become an irreparable split in the white right and could spark an intense conflict between right-wing moderates and hardliners.

``What was always a tenuous unity is now irretrievably split,'' Mr. Welsh said. ``The more sensible and pragmatic elements are now coming on board the process, and I would estimate some 60 to 70 percent of right-wing supporters will follow Viljoen into the election.''

Ferdi Hartzenberg, leader of the right-wing Conservative Party who has strongly resisted taking part in the ballot, is caught between the two factions and faces an almost inevitable split in his party, which formed the official opposition in the white house of Parliament.

The decision by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to stay out of the election - it failed to submit candidate lists by Friday midnight - has raised fears of spiraling pre-vote violence in strife-torn Natal province. It also raised the prospect of a substantial stay-away by black voters frightened of poll violence.

Bophuthatswana, a patchwork of seven islands of territory spanning three provinces, was created in the era of apartheid as one of 10 black homelands that would be granted political ``independence'' to enable the minority white regime to retain political power. It sports the massive Sun City casino and entertainment center and some lucrative platinum mines and was one of four homelands to accept nominal independence from Pretoria.

The territory became an obstacle to fair elections because Mangope authorized a reign of terror against the ANC and refused to allow free campaigning.

BDF Chief Maj. Gen. Jack Turner said on Saturday that the perpetrators of the executions would be identified and charged with murder. The executions - accompanied with grisly color photographs - were given splash treatment in the country's major Sunday newspapers.

The Sunday Times of Johannesburg carried the story under the headline: ``Sheer Bloody Murder.'' The Afrikaans-language Sunday Rapport had the headline: ``Where is my daddy?'' - the cry of AWB Commander Alwyn Wolfaardt's young daughter when she recognized the television image of her wounded father before he was shot.

Ironically, the three white right-wingers were executed by the security forces of the government they said they had come to help. Bophuthatswana authorities said they had accepted an offer from Viljoen to come to the aid of Mangope.

The SADF last intervened in the territory in 1988 to prop up Mangope after an attempted coup backed by the African National Congress (ANC).

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