S. Africa's inter-black violence overshadows blacks' common struggle against white rule

The tragedy of Crossroads, a morass of mud and charred wreckage after two days of violence, has dramatized the increasingly tangled alliances in the battle over South Africa's future. The latest fighting at the Crossroads black squatter camp and similar clashes last month are the most serious upheavals in the political violence that has racked South Africa for the past 21 months. Fighting yesterday left at least eight dead, more than 20 injured, thousands homeless, and refugee aid programs in chaos.

On the surface, the violence is a simple power struggle between rival camp factions. The struggle was sparked by an offensive staged by black conservatives known as the ``fathers'' against young militants known as ``comrades.''

But according to black leaders, white opposition parliamentarians, and some reporters, it is more than just an internal camp struggle. They allege that the police have been arming and encouraging the conservative vigilantes.

The militant comrades have gained increasing sway around the country. They have frequently denounced, beaten up, or killed blacks alleged to be police informers or collaborators with South Africa's white-minority government. The great majority of the more than 1,600 victims in the months of political violence have been blacks -- militants killed by police or Army fire, local officials, policemen, or alleged informers killed by the militants.

More is at stake in the latest violence than control of the Crossroads area -- a cluster of four shanty towns north of Cape Town. The recent push by the fathers and by similar conservative vigilante squads in other black areas has, in effect, allied them with the government's drive to contain more radical blacks.

The offensive at Crossroads comes only weeks after President Pieter W. Botha scrapped the pass-law system. The system limited the number of blacks allowed to settle near white cities, where the most promising jobs exist during a deep economic recession.

In place of the old system, the government has announced a strategy to encourage ``orderly urbanization'' by providing small site-and-service plots in officially approved areas. The prototype was set up several years ago near Crossroads, at Khayelitsha, 10 miles further away from Cape Town. After last month's fighting, the authorities tried with little success to get the homeless to move there.

The government has repeatedly denied supporting black vigilante violence. Officials have suggested that such ``black-on-black violence'' demonstrates that the real struggle in South Africa is not against the white government but among various black ``minorities'' and that it is bound to get worse if the blacks come to power.

For blacks not active on either side of the growing divide, the result has been terror, frustration, and suffering. During last month's fighting at Crossroads, conservatives torched dozens of shacks and drove an estimated 30,000 people into two hastily erected aid centers sponsored by relief agencies. These centers were set aflame Monday, as rival black groups battled with guns, machetes, knives, and wooden staves and then left when a flash rainstorm quelled the violence.

In renewed violence there yesterday, at least four South African reporters and cameramen were injured. Further casualty details were not immediately available. Last month's clash left 33 dead, and at least 10 had been killed in the recent fighting as of yesterday afternoon.

The Crossroads unrest comes only days before the 10th anniversary of the black student uprising in Soweto, which has produced a rare show of unity among most black leaders. They have vowed to mark the date, June 16, despite a government ban on commemorative meetings.

Typical of the confusion and agony the black infighting has sown was a tearful plea by Anglican Archibishop Desmond Tutu over the weekend for blacks to stop killing each other and concentrate on a common effort to end apartheid.

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