S. Africa: black youth fuel township unrest. Their chief target: blacks working for white government

``The word is that the violence will go on,'' sighs a woman on the edge of the black township of Alexandra. A few hundred yards away lie small factories and rows of shops -- the rim of Johannesburg's white suburbia. ``I'm not worried for my own safety,'' says a white car dealer. ``The violence in Alexandra is not new. It doesn't really spill beyond the township.''

Alexandra's latest unrest -- beginning last Saturday with a clash between South African police and a crowd gathered for a funeral -- has turned this small town of tightly packed, red-roofed houses into a cauldron. Some 100,000 blacks, mostly working in Johannesburg or its suburbs, live in a rectangle barely a mile square.

The youth -- as so often elsewhere during the violence of the past 18 months -- seem to be the engine of unrest on the side of the blacks. Their main targets: fellow blacks who are working as policemen or are otherwise linked to the country's white-minority government.

The police have made things worse, Alexandrans argue. ``They arrest many youths. They have killed many people,'' says one woman.

Official figures released Monday (Events in this story took place on Tuesday, not Monday. SEE CORRECTION BELOW.) said 19 had died in Alexandra since the weekend. Sixteen were shot by police. Three -- a policeman, and two others apparently branded ``traitors'' -- were killed by local residents.

South African troops in armored cars and police in squad cars guarded most roads entering Alexandra Monday and were turning back reporters. A few entry points -- such as the one where the Alexandra women were interviewed, were open. But, for a reporter to enter the township would violate tightened press regulations announced last year. (Interviewing emerging residents are allowed.)

Several reporters were briefly detained near Alexandra Monday. One photographer had her cameras confiscated. Officials explaining the press policy have said that the presence of reporters and camera crews is a catalyst for unrest.

Violence has persisted in Alexandra and elsewhere.

A brief, indirect glimpse of the depth of unrest came Monday when Nobel prize-winning Bishop Desmond Tutu entered Alexandra and appealed to a crowd of thousands for restraint. According to black South African journalists, the crowd wanted to stage a protest against the troop presence in the township.

Bishop Tutu, says one witness, called for a return to normalcy. He said children should return to school, workers to work. The crowd shouted him down.

He bowed to the idea of a protest boycott Tuesday but swayed the youngsters meanwhile to disband and go home.

Tutu said he understood their anger -- the rift between the generations that has been a main feature of township unrest. But he reportedly asked the youth to trust him to try to press their grievances. The bishop was not immediately avialable for comment.

In an article ``South Africa: black youth fuel township unrest'' on Page 9 of Wednesday's Monitor, references to events taking place in Alexandra on Monday, Feb. 17, were not dated correctly. The events took place Tuesday, Feb. 18.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to S. Africa: black youth fuel township unrest. Their chief target: blacks working for white government
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today