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.