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Violence Erodes Progressive Tack In South Africa

Clashes strengthen radicals in the ANC and government as they face April 11 talks

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AS Pretoria and the African National Congress prepare for their first round of direct talks in two weeks time, a nationwide resurgence of violence is threatening to erode the positions of moderates on both sides. There is evidence that neither anti-apartheid groups allied to the African National Congress nor government security forces are able to control radical elements in their ranks.

While recent clashes have not yet endangered the talks scheduled for April 11, the rapid polarization tends to strengthen the hand of radicals in both camps.

Anti-apartheid leaders say that it is becoming increasingly difficult to control militant youths in the black townships, particularly when emotions are inflamed by police action.

Following Monday's fatal shooting of at least nine black demonstrators in Sebokeng, a sprawling black township 35 miles south of Johannesburg (some 448 were injured by police fire), anti-apartheid leaders have begun to publicly doubt the sincerity of the government's intention to allow peaceful protest.

Anti-apartheid leaders and eyewitnesses say that police opened fire without warning or provocation on about 50,000 marchers who were waiting for a black police officer to hand a list of grievances to white officers at a police barricade.

Police say that they opened fire in self-defense against a mob armed with sticks, stones, and iron bars.

``The protesters have very legitimate grievances,'' says sociologist Duncan Innes. ``But right-wing elements in the police who have no interest in negotiations are opening fire to sabotage negotiations. Blacks will then say: how can you negotiate with people who shoot you down?''

``And so,'' Mr. Innes adds, ``the situation rapidly polarizes, strengthening the position of the more radical Africanists [main rivals of the ANC].''

Anti-apartheid leaders insist that the sole purpose of the protest march was to highlight black grievances which have changed little from those that sparked off a nationwide black rebellion in 1984. The first clash over rent increases occurred in Sebokeng that year, and the anger of the crowd turned on black councilmen backed by Pretoria who were regarded as collaborators.

Since Mr. De Klerk relaxed restrictions on anti-apartheid groups two months ago, the anti-apartheid leaders have drawn attention to the same grievances by organizing protests against rents and electricity tariffs and demanding the resignation of black councilmen.


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