RIVAL political factions have closed ranks in condemning civilian killings in strife-torn Natal province that were apparently intended to sabotage the resumption of negotiations in South Africa.
In the past, violence of this nature has caused delays and even breakdowns in political negotiations, but recent massacres appear to have strengthened the resolve of adversaries to reach agreement on a transition to democracy so that elections can be held by April 1994.
In the latest attack, which occurred yesterday morning, three people were killed and at least eight injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying ANC supporters on their way to a court hearing in the nearby town of Pietermaritzburg.
Police confirmed the attack and casualties but could not confirm the political allegiance of the victims. The attack occurred in Swayimane township near the Table Mountain area where two massacres occurred last week.
Law and Order Minister Hernus Kriel, under pressure from anti-apartheid groups to find the culprits, said yesterday the South African police were doing everything possible to track the killers, but needed the active cooperation of politicians and their structures.
"Talk is not enough. Political leaders must now take practical and visible steps to implement peace because it is now clear that peace will not come by itself." Killings denounced
The killings, which claimed a total of 19 lives, including seven children and five women, were strongly condemned by all 26 parties attending a planning conference here March 5-6; police have announced the arrests of five people.
But no amount of condemnation could stifle suspicions that the killings were the work of white right-wingers or renegade members of the main black parties who want to derail multiparty talks, which are now set to resume by April 5.
The killings - which are the latest episode in the conflict between Zulu supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the African National Congress (ANC) - provided a grim backdrop to the political talks, at which the parties agreed to resume full-blown multiparty negotiations within four weeks despite deep differences.
The talks were the first ever to include extremist parties - including the right-wing Conservative Party and the radical Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), which has so far refused to suspend its armed struggle to end white rule. The PAC joined other parties in condemning the killings and passing a resolution that commits all parties to ending political violence.
The killings brought the first calls from liberals and civil rights workers for Pretoria to declare an emergency in Natal province. Crackdown in Natal?
"Is it not time that South Africa - like the international community in Somalia - imposes a state of emergency or martial law so that these oppressors of the people can be stopped in their tracks?" asked Graham McIntosh, an official of a dispute resolution committee in Natal.
ANC and IFP leaders, in a departure from the past, refrained from blaming one another and distanced themselves from the violence in the strongest terms.
There is widespread speculation in political and diplomatic circles that the massacres were the work of either right-wing agent provocateurs using black surrogates or renegade ANC or IFP members intent on scuttling the multiparty conference.
ANC officials claimed Friday that the three suspects arrested March 3 were working for whites with links to the extreme right-wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement, but they have provided no proof for their claim.
A Western diplomat attending the talks said it was vital that the authorities should charge the culprits and determine the motives of the killings. "If there are right-wing whites behind the killings there is at least a hope that the cycle of violence an mayhem in Natal can be stopped.
"But if the killings are just part of the momentum of the civil war it might be impossible to implement a political settlement in Natal," the diplomat says.
"The time has come when politicians can no longer just sit around the table," Mr. Kriel said at a news conference after the multiparty talks on Saturday.
"We will have to be seen to reject violence - not only around the coziness of the negotiating table, but for leaders to call on their supporters and act at the grass-roots level."