A GROWING public perception that rogue elements in the South African security forces are fanning black township violence has slowed interracial dialogue and created a dilemma for the government. The credibility of the security forces reached an all-time low last week after a shooting incident in Sebokeng township Tuesday.
Soldiers killed 11 residents hours after armed members of the Zulu-based Inkatha movement - backed by hooded whites with guns - killed 26 people.
There can be no further normalization of politics in South Africa until ``security structures are seen to be acting in a nonpartisan way,'' says independent analyst Frederik van Zyl Slabbert.
President Frederik de Klerk, during a surprise visit to Soweto township this week, said that it was essential to have peace if negotiations were to succeed. ``If we allow strife and if we allow conflicts and unnecessary disruptions to destabilize the country, the end will be crisis for everybody,'' he said.
The violence, which has claimed nearly 600 lives in the past four weeks, is usually sparked by clashes between members of Inkatha and the African National Congress (ANC).
A widely-held view among black township residents that the police are aiding Inkatha in a bid to destabilize the ANC, has set back efforts to create joint ANC-police liaison committees. ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela said this week that the committees were working well where they had been established.
At talks in Pretoria between the ANC and government Aug. 6, the ANC was provided with the names of 96 police officers nationwide as liaison points.
But, so far, the ANC has been able to match only one-third of that number with official counterparts due to grass-roots mistrust of the police role.
``I don't think effective policing can be achieved until the ANC is seen to be part of the government and the two parties are seen to be governing jointly,'' says analyst Mervyn Frost of Natal University. Following a two-hour meeting with Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok on Wednesday, Mr. Mandela welcomed the arrest of 133 Inkatha members after the Sebokeng shootings.
It was the first time the police had acted against a large group of Inkatha members. Those arrested included Inkatha Youth Brigade leader Themba Khoza, who was held under emergency regulations after four AK-47 rifles were found in his possession.
The image of the police force took a further knock this week with the release of results of an investigation by Judge Richard Goldstone into police shootings in Sebokeng township in March this year that left 12 black demonstrators dead and 86 injured.
The report found that the police actions, which led to the deaths, were largely unjustified and that grounds for prosecution should be considered in some cases. The government swiftly agreed to act on its findings.
``The government reaction to the Goldstone report will send a clear signal to the police,'' says Professor Frost. ``It seems there is really a drive from on high to bring the police force into line with the new politics.''
There is mounting evidence from eyewitnesses of recent township clashes that hooded, armed whites have been involved in transporting Zulus from one township to another to sustain the violence.
A report commissioned by leading anti-apartheid churchmen, which was handed to Mr. De Klerk on Aug. 28 by a church delegation led by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, found blatant police bias toward Inkatha and widespread collusion.
De Klerk, who has rejected repeated ANC claims that elements in the police are responsible for promoting the violence, responded swiftly to the report and ordered Mr. Vlok to investigate the claims. Mandela blames ``elements in the police force and right-wingers'' for fanning the political conflict between the ANC and Inkatha.
Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi last week dismissed accusations that Inkatha was inciting violence or collaborating with the police. ``It is utter balderdash to suggest I could be involved in planning attacks against anybody,'' he said.
ANC leaders are being faced with mounting pressure from supporters to authorize self-defense and retaliation against Inkatha attacks. ``Prospects for a full-scale civil war are now real,'' warned New Nation, a pro-ANC weekly, this week.
But the township violence has not prevented De Klerk from moving ahead rapidly with his reform program. Last week he announced the opening of the ruling National Party to all races - a move that will boost the credibility of promises to end discrimination and seek black allies for a new political order. Constitutional Development Minister Gerrit Viljoen further announced that the party would abandon its long-held insistence on the maintenance of ``group rights'' - a euphemism for race-based politics.