Black protest swells in South Africa. Police admit errors in government account of last month's shootings
Blacks in South Africa staged one of their largest anti-government demonstrations in many years over the weekend amid continuing unrest and new questions about the way Pretoria is handling unrest. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 blacks attended a mass funeral Saturday for recent victims of unrest, including the 19 blacks killed by police last month in Uitenhage. Although the massive protest was peaceful, unrest continued in the black townships of the troubled eastern region of the Cape Province of South Africa. At least seven blacks were killed over the weekend in the province.
More than 100 blacks have died in unrest so far this year, some as a result of police action and some because of attacks from fellow blacks who are increasingly targeting members of their own community regarded as government collaborators.
Last week, the chief of the South African Police seemed to try to take the heat off his political boss, the minister of law and order, over the matter of police shootings of blacks.
But the minister may be placed in an even more awkward political position as a result.
The police commissioner, Gen. Johan Coetzee, told the judicial commission investigating the shootings of blacks in Uitenhage in March that police had to be blamed for inaccuracies in the official report issued at the time. The account of the incident was given to Parliament by Louis Le Grange, minister of law and order, hours after the shots were fired.
Mr. Le Grange's report to Parliament indicated that the police were obliged to open fire on a crowd marching to a funeral because police were seriously threatened and virtually fighting for their lives.
He said the police were surrounded by a mob and pelted with petrol bombs, sticks, and stones.
But policemen involved in the shooting have since admitted to the judge conducting the inquiry that much of the minister's account was wrong. For example, Lt. John Fouche, who gave the order to open fire, admitted that a number of statements to Parliament by the minister were not true:
It was not true that the police were suddenly surrounded or pelted with stones, Lieutenant Fouche said.
Further, said the lieutenant when cross-examined, he did not see any petrol bombs, nor did he witness any explosions.
General Coetzee has told the commission that any shortcomings in the minister's statement were the result of inaccuracies in the information received from police based on ``unverified'' information hurriedly collected just after the people were killed.