Economic despair spurs violence among S. Africa's rural blacks. Desperate search for jobs brings intra-black, white-black unrest

Two violent incidents this past week in South Africa indicate that economic issues, mainly rising unemployment, are generating a feeling of despair and anger among rural blacks. There were clear signs of black concern over jobs in the bitter clash earlier this week between black miners and police west of Johannesburg, and, shortly afterward, in the renewed fierce fighting south of Durban between Zulus and Pondos.

At least nine people, including two white policemen, died in the battle between police and migrant miners on Tuesday. The clash took place when police broke up an illegal but peaceful meeting of migrant miners near the township of Bekkersdal.

The miners at Bekkersdal have faced at least three mass dismissals in the past eight months, all of them taking place in the same general region of the western Transvaal Province.

Black miners, in general, have been losing jobs on a large scale during recent months. In May last year 17,000 black miners were dismissed from two gold mines. Last September hundreds of miners were sacked by Gencor, an Afrikaner-dominated mining company with a reputation for union-bashing.

Earlier this year, some 20,000 black miners were sacked at a Gencor-owned platinum mine just inside the supposedly independent ``homeland'' of Bophuthatswana.

In that dismissal the mining company resolved not to offer to re-employ the sacked miners even conditionally. The company's declared objective was to replace them with new recruits from the mass of unemployed people in the rural areas.

Research by Prof. Jeremy Keenan of the University of the Witwatersrand showed that in 1984 more than 35 percent of men and more than 50 percent of women in rural areas in the western Transvaal had been unemployed for more than two years. That was before the present recession began to dramatically swell the ranks of unemployed black people.

This rising unemployment in rural areas coincided with a period of rapid unionization of black mine workers -- most of whom are contract workers either from South Africa's black tribal homelands or from a neighboring country. The main force behind the unionization is the National Union of Mineworkers, the largest and fastest-growing black trade union in South Africa.

The other violent incident -- the clash between Pondos and Zulus -- also had a connection with the country's rising rural unemploymenmt.

The Pondos, who clashed with Zulus near Durban, come from Pondoland, a region of the homeland of Transkei. The Transkei is adjacent to Kwazulu, another of South Africa's black homelands. Both Transkei and Kwazulu are desperately poor territories, with vast numbers of unemployed and underemployed residents.

The clash was the result of Pondos, desperately seeking jobs, coming into a Zulu area near the industrial port city of Durban. This quest for jobs imposes strains on the Pondos' relationship with the Zulus, who, also worried about being jobless, jealously guard the area and its jobs.

Many analysts see this intra-black fighting between Pondos and Zulus as an indication of rising anger in the black community as a whole -- an anger that can just as easily turn outward against the ruling whites, as it did when the miners fought back against the police.

The reported discovery of AK-47 rifle and hand grenades in the township of Bekkersdal indicates that the African National Congress, an outlawed black nationalist group, may be trying to capitalize on the situation.

Bekkersdal and other townships west of Johannesburg, seem to be experiencing a surge of militancy similar to the one that swept through black townships east of the city last year.

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