S. African violence shifts. Urban blasts may signal new tack by black militants
Johannesburg — South Africa's violence appears to be moving out of black townships into white cities. The nationwide state of emergency imposed 13 days ago has begun to reduce the violence that has raged primarily in black areas for the past 21 months, official figures over the past few days indicate.
But two bombs exploded in downtown Johannesburg yesterday, barely a week after a bomb blast near a Durban night-spot. If black militants are responsible, as is widely presumed, the series of explosions suggests they may be changing their tactics under the security crackdown.
There have been bombings by black insurgents before, notably a blast at a shopping center near Durban last December which killed five people and wounded more than 40. But the trio of explosions this month would represent the first such sustained series of terrorist attacks.
The outlawed African National Congress, the main black insurgent group fighting to overthrow the South African government, has until recently publicly rejected directing violence against civilian ``soft targets.'' But as early as last August, statements by the ANC's exiled leaders hinted that violence might claim increasing civilian casualties. These would result from what they call the twin influences of grass-roots militancy and the South African government's refusal to meet demands for black-majority rule.
Whether or not the ANC, or individual blacks inside South Africa, have the intention or capability to mount further bomb strikes in South African cities is impossible to gauge. Official statements here since imposition of the state of emergency June 12, however, leave no doubt that the authorities are determined to crack down on all political violence.
The June 14 bombing in Durban killed three people and wounded nearly 70 -- most of them whites. Yesterday's explosions at a Wimpy's hamburger bar in Johannesburg and near a downtown hotel wounded at least 17 people. Among them were both whites and some of the tens of thousands of blacks who commute into the city to work. There were no immediate reports of deaths. South African law bars blacks from living in Johannesburg and other major cities, except as resident employees in white homes.
The government imposed the state of emergency in a bid to quell the most sustained bout of black political violence in the country's history. The unrest has left more than 1,700 people, almost all of them blacks, dead. Most of the victims were either young militants slain by the security forces or blacks murdered by fellow blacks for allegedly being ``collaborators'' with South Africa's government.
President Pieter W. Botha, in announcing the state of emergency, said ``black-on-black'' violence was intimidating those blacks who would otherwise favor accepting his proposal to negotiate an arrangement for ``power-sharing.'' He said these were the majority of the blacks.
At time of writing, the President had not commented publicly on the bombings in Durban or Johannesburg. But he and other officials have dismissed past ANC remarks on ``soft targets'' as disingenuous. The government has charged that the ANC is a terrorist organization, bent on overthrowing the government. Officials have also stressed that some leading ANC figures are members of the outlawed South African Communist Party.
After the newsmagazine Newsweek ran a cover story on the state of emergency, South African authorities ordered its Johannesburg correspondent to leave the country. No reason for the expulsion order has been made public. But recently adopted media restrictions bar published statements which the government may deem ``subversive.'' Pretoria also told a free-lance Israeli journalist yesterday that he must leave the country by Thursday, bring to three the number of the foreign correspondents expelled since the state of emergency was imposed.
Not only the government, but also more than a few blacks, have expressed satisfaction with at least one early effect that the state of emergency has had on black townships. A visit early this week by this reporter to Alexandra, a township near Johannesburg, found a measure of relief among many residents.
The relief results from the apparent quelling of violence that has claimed at least some 30 lives there since the start of the year.