S. African bishops cite police brutality in quelling black unrest

The South African police behaved like an ''occupying army controlling enemy territory'' while combating recent black unrest in the townships, says a report by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference.

The report is the most ambitious attempt yet by a nongovernment source to assess the role of the police in the three months of black unrest that left more than 150 dead.

It differs sharply from police assurances during the unrest that most blacks in the townships ''openly and publicly expressed their gratidude toward the state'' for restoring law and order, as a police spokesman put it.

To the contrary, the church group says whites have been dangerously misled about black views of the police.

''Instead of being accepted as protectors of the people, the police are now regarded by many people in the black townships as disturbers of the peace and perpetrators of violent crime,'' it states.

The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, made up of 33 bishops from South Africa, Namibia (South-West Africa), Swaziland, and Botswana, based its report on sworn affidavits from about 45 residents of black townships. Many of those giving statements were later cross-examined by lawyers.

The report accuses the police of ''reckless or wanton violence'' against blacks, including indiscriminate use of firearms and teargas, assaults and beatings, rape, and provocative and callous conduct.

Blacks have accused the police of:

* Killing Jacob Moleki by shooting him at point-blank range. Four blacks claim they witnessed the shooting by an angry policeman who accused Mr. Moleki of stealing his jacket while in police custody.

* Shooting a 20-year-old man in Sharpeville while he was sitting in his front garden with members of his family. The shot was allegedly fired by police driving past, and the man lost an eye in the incident.

* Killing 10-year-old Nicholas Mgudlwa while he was innocently chopping wood in his back yard in Sebokeng. Nicholas's father said a police vehilce drove down their street, they heard a shot, rushed outside and found Nicholas on the ground. He later died in the hospital. Mr. Mgudlwa said he found a rubber bullet (a hard rubber cylinder the length of a fish) commonly used by the police on the ground. The police later denied responsibiity.

* Savagely attacking black mourners after funerals for victims of the unrest. After one funeral in Sebokeng, about 60 blacks were taken by the police to the station and were made to run a gauntlet of policemen who beat them as they emerged from the truck.

These are only a few of the allegations. The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference says it recognizes the police were at times provoked and at times needed to protect themselves.

But, it says, that cannot justify unlawful conduct by the police. The church group has urged a more thorough inquiry.

The police have reacted negatively to the report, however, saying it contains untruths and accusing the bishops of having ''ulterior purposes'' in issuing the report.

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