Right to Peaceful Protest Recognized
Violent confrontation between police and mixed-race demonstrators led to softening of policy. BREAKTHROUGH IN CAPE TOWN
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
WHEN 16-year-old Yvette Otto set out from the tiny house in Inkblom Street, Kalksteenfontein, to visit a friend on the night of the Sept. 6 national election, her mother warned her to be careful. The pregnant Yvette probably stayed clear of the conflict raging between armed riot police and militant Colored (mixed-race) protesters.
But within 15 minutes of leaving the house, Yvette - a popular, mixed-race girl - lay dead at the garden gate of the Morkel family in River Street, shot through the chest by a police rifle as she struggled to open the latch.
She was one of more than a dozen people killed in a wave of violence which erupted Sept. 6 on the sandy and windswept wastes known as the Cape flats.
Some 1 million people inhabit the highly politicized neighborhoods and ghettos of the Cape flats. More than half are of mixed race, and the rest are black.
The Sept. 6 conflict was the culmination of more than four weeks of intense protest against the election for the white, mixed-race, and Indian parliaments.
Police action on that night has been the focus of a serious confrontation between President-elect Frederik de Klerk and anti-apartheid leaders.
But after a hectic day of negotiations Tuesday between senior government officials, leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church - the main Afrikaner church to which most goverment members belong - and anti-apartheid leaders, Mr. de Klerk expressed his sympathy for those who had died in the violence and gave the go-ahead for a multi-racial peace march through downtown Cape Town, yesterday.
The historic peace march by between 15,000 and 20,000 people of all races was the first of its kind since a nationwide emergency outlawing such protests was declared over three years ago.
The march, which followed a route from St. Georges Cathedral to the City Hall, coincided with the reconvening of parliament after last week's election in which the ruling National Party's majority was substantially reduced.
The protesters, in buoyant mood and chanting freedom slogans, marched arm-in-arm in one of the biggest public protests South Africa has seen in more than 30 years. The orderly crowd displayed large yellow banners with the words: Peace in our city - stop the killings. Hundreds of police monitored the march but did not intervene as Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Cape Town Mayor Gordon Oliver led the procession.
Before the march, Archbishop Tutu described De Klerk's decision to allow the protest as ``a victory for the people and for peaceful protest.''
The Rev. Lionel Louw, an anti-apartheid church leader, said at a short service in St. George's Cathedral before the march that the protest marked a historic day for South Africa.
``We have assembled here as a city to express our outrage at what has happened - the killing of 3-year-old children and pregnant women,'' he said. ``It is an outrage against the whole of humanity that such brutality can be unleashed against our people.''
Anti-apartheid leaders hailed the march as a breakthrough in their campaign to establish the right of peaceful protest.
Tutu and the Rev. Allan Boesak, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, have claimed that 29 people were killed Sept. 6 by police using shotguns and live ammunition.
The police say that 15 people died, at least 10 of them in gang violence. But eyewitness accounts suggest that the majority of those dead were shot by police.
At a media conference in the Cathedral last Friday, Tutu and Reverand Boesak demanded that De Klerk dismiss Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok, who has since accused the anti-apartheid leaders of lying and defying emergency laws.
``Unless he does this, Mr. de Klerk will have no credibility at all in the black community,'' said Boesak.
WIDESPREAD evidence of police brutality and provocation has caused outrage across the color line.
This rage has been expressed at several highly politicized funerals of those killed in the violence. Coffins have been drapped with the outlawed African National Congress flag, and priests and activists have shouted liberation programs from the pulpits.
The allegations of police violence and brutality have been given further credence by a mixed-race policeman, Lt. Gregory Rockman, who took the rare step of airing his own account of ruthless actions by white riot police in the middle-class, mixed-race township of Mitchell's Plain.
Lieutenant Rockman said the white policemen had acted like ``wild dogs'' by indiscriminately beating innocent people taking part in peaceful demonstrations. In many instances, he said, the police instigated the violence.
Rockman has been hailed as a hero by anti-apartheid activists and has even been interviewed on state-controlled South African television - an indication that the authorities dare not silence him.
In a significant shift within the police establishment Tuesday, 40 senior mixed-race officers backed Rockman's stand following a meeting between Mr. Vlok and a police delegation. Rockman was part of the delegation, but Vlok refused to meet him alone.
After the meeting Colonel John Manuel, the country's most senior mixed-raced officer, said Rockman had his full support and he called on the white riot squad to behave ``more professionally.''
VLOK announced after the meeting that a senior white police officer would investigate the shootings and allegations of brutality.
Rockman has agreed to cooperate with the inquiry but insists that a judicial commission is necessary to ensure that members of the community come forward to give evidence and speak freely.
A further indication that De Klerk's administration is heeding the outpouring of anger over police brutality was the announcement from police headquarters Monday that the further use of whips as a method of crowd control had been outlawed.
The statement cited negative local and international reaction to the practice as reason for the ban. But lawyers and anti-apartheid leaders said the issue was no longer whips but the recent use of live ammunition by the police.
Opposition politicians, who have demanded that De Klerk appoint a judicial commission to investigate the killings, say that De Klerk's response to the challenge to discipline his police force will be crucial to the future success of planned moves toward dialogue with black leaders.
There are clear indications of disagreement within the government over recent heavy-handed action against peaceful protests.
According to the police version of Yvette Otto's death, she was the victim of gang warfare.
But several eye-witnesses to the event told the Monitor they saw riot police - most of whom were white - first shoot 25-year-old Joseph Makoma and later Yvette, apparently without warning and without provocation.