Though less visible in media, S. Africa's unrest rumbles on
Any impression that violence in South Africa has subsided, perhaps created partly by restrictions on media coverage, was shattered this past week. At least 19 people have died since last Sunday -- a jolting reminder that the violence that has racked South Africa for 14 months and claimed more than 850 lives has not gone away.
The South African government imposed media restrictions Nov. 2, requiring journalists to receive police permission to cover unrest in areas under a state of emergency. This permission is often denied, and journalists must rely solely on police accounts of events. Thus it has been difficult to independently verify the level of violence recently. But events of the past several days tell an unmistakable tale of continuing unrest.
While the immediate causes of violence differ from township to township, the underlying cause is clear enough: rebellion against continued white rule.
As Gen. Bert Wandrag, head of South Africa's counterinsurgency force, said: ``The objective is to create so-called liberated areas in the black townships, from where the terrifying war can be spread to the cities and white suburbs to bring about the downfall of the government.''
Yesterday thousands of blacks clashed with police in the Mamelodi township near Pretoria. Violence broke out after blacks marched through the streets protesting high rents, government restrictions on how blacks must conduct themselves at funerals, and demanded the withdrawal of white policemen from their township. Some blacks that observed the confrontation said 6 people were killed. The police reported one death and 20 arrests.
Aside from being a reminder that the black townships remain highly volatile, this past week's upheaval showed how violence in South Africa is broadening into areas previously untouched.
Violence occured Sunday and Monday in Queenstown in the eastern Cape Province and on Tuesday in Leandra, 50 miles from Johannesburg. Both are areas that up to now have been relatively calm.
It is estimated that in Queenstown, 14 people were killed by police action against ``stone-throwing'' crowds intent on attacking police or blacks alleged to be collabotors with the white government. Four people were killed in Leandra, three by police, and one, according to a local black, by a white civilian.
The deaths in Queenstown and Leandra took place against a backdrop of new hand grenade attacks in the western Cape Province and a strike by hundreds of black workers in Soweto's Baragwanath hospital.
The causes of the violence were different in Queenstown and Leandra.
Queenstown has been the scene of a sustained consumer boycott of white shops by blacks and Coloreds (people of mixed race descent) since August. The immediate spark to the violence came from action by militants against people whose support for the boycott was beginning to waver. As the militants tended to be black and the waverers Colored, the ``disciplinary action'' was directed by blacks against Coloreds. The prelude to Sunday's violence was the bombing of a church and four homes in a Colored township . The bombings led Colored vigilantes to seek revenge. It was in that tense atmosphere that nine blacks were killed on Sunday and Monday in clashes with police.
The people of Leandra have long been threatened with relocation, mostly to the ``homeland'' of KwaNdebele, whose leaders have a reputation for brutality. But they have stood united against all efforts to remove them. They have resisted attempts to divide them by offering security of tenure to lawful residents, while denying it to people who settled there in defiance of the influx control laws which restrict where blacks can live and travel.
The immediate cause of violence there on Tuesday was the serving of eviction notices on 24 ``squatter families'' in Leandra. The community, seeing the move as another attempt to fragment their united opposition to relocation, organized a general strike. According to Chief Ampie Mayiso of Leandra, the violence was triggered by the shooting death of a black woman by a white civilian. Blacks then stoned and attacked the houses of local black policemen and town councillors. Observers point out that policeme n are a major target of violence in South Africa.