With protest outside, S. African Parliament probes police actions
The focus on the police killing of 19 blacks in the eastern Cape Province last week moved today to the heart of Cape Town, South Africa's legislative capital. As Parliament prepared for a bitter debate on the police action, groups of uniformed police stood ready in nearby city streets to head off a planned demonstration by supporters of the government's most vocal extra-parliamentary opposition, the powerful United Democratic Front.
After a lunchtime UDF prayer meeting in a city church, about 300 people of all races marched out of the church through a side door and headed for Parliament. Leading the group was Dr. Allan Boesak, the controversial Cape Town clergyman who is president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and Dr. Beyers Naude, the Afrikaner secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches, who is a longtime opponent of the ruling National Party.
Warned by the police that they were breaking a law forbidding demonstrations in city streets, one of the other clergymen said, ``We understand.'' Then the group knelt and sang hymns while more police arrived in trucks and cars. Scores were arrested, including Drs. Naude and Boesak.
Meanwhile the government minister at the heart of the storm over the police shootings in Uitenhage near Port Elizabeth last week, Louis Le Grange, flew there from Cape Town to interview the police officer who ordered police to fire on a crowd. Afterwards Le Grange told the correspondent of a Cape Town newspaper ``People will be sorry that they have called on me to resign.''
He said he was happy with his original statement that the police had ``no alternative'' but to shoot. He admitted that although he did not presently consider it ``a crisis situation,'' that ``it is very serious and it is getting the full attention of the government.''
The main white opposition in Parliament, the Progressive Federal Party, will dispute in Parliament Mr. Le Grange's claim that the police had no alternative but to open fire and other aspects of the police version of what happened last. A delegation of leading PFP members of Parliament has just returned to Cape Town from Uitenhage with a 50-page report on what black residents say happened, including 20 sworn affidavits.
They have expressed their ``gravest disquiet'' at the gulf between the police version of events and the information they were given.
They say that basically their evidence is that the mood of the crowd halted by police was peaceful and that ``there was no evidence [of people carrying] sticks, spears, and petrol bombs.''
Blacks also made allegations to the parliamentarians about policemen ``collecting stones and strewing them among the bodies'' after the shooting stopped.
Police claim the crowd was ``armed with stones, sticks, petrol bombs and bricks,'' and that people surrounded the police and began pelting them with various missiles, forcing police to shoot.
Copies of the PFP report are being sent to President Pieter Botha and the evidence will be presented also to the judge who begins a formal public investigation of the shootings Wednesday.
Analysts state that in Parliament the government can expect fairly unanimous opposition about the way it has handled events from two of the three houses of Parliament -- the Indian House of Delegates and the Colored House of Representatives.
In the House of Assembly (white), where the National Party has an overwhelming majority, the government is being most harshly criticized by the Progressives, but can expect support from the rightwing Conservative Party, which accuse the government of being ``soft'' on racial issues and ``selling out the whites'' as a result.