15 killed as violence continues in northern Johannesburg black township

March 28, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

ALEXANDRA, South Africa -- Fifteen people were killed in this black township in northern Johannesburg yesterday, nearly three weeks after an outburst of bloody fighting plunged the area into a spiral of violence that has left residents shocked and confused.

Gunmen opened fire on mourners at an all-night wake for a woman slain in her home last week. Twelve people died on the spot, and three others died later in the clinic across the street from the site of the shooting.

After spraying the mourners with a hail of bullets, the gunmen entered the home of Wellington Ramokgola, whose wife was the murder victim, and hacked people at random with knives and axes.

"They said we were all dogs, and then they just started shooting and shooting," said Mr. Ramokgola, who looked dazed as he stood in his small stucco house, where the walls and floors were spattered with blood.

The shooting was reminiscent of a massacre two months ago in another black township, Sebokeng, about 40 miles south of Johannesburg. More than three dozen people were killed in that incident as mourners kept a nightlong vigil for a slain activist, a member of the African National Congress.

Relatives said Jane Ramokgola was not a member of the ANC or any other organization. Her brother, Fani Maphanga, said she belonged to nothing but the Roman Catholic Church. She ran a little township business selling soft drinks and other items, he said, to help support her family while her husband's union was on strike at a local factory.

Her sons were the activists in the family, neighbors said. They were members of an ANC-affiliated student organization, the Congress of South African Students. Three of Mrs. Ramokgola's four sons were killed in the hail of bullets at 4:30 a.m. yesterday by men who spoke Zulu, according to survivors.

"I heard one of them shout 'Inkatha,' but no one responded," said Mr.Maphanga, who said he fled to the police station as the shooting began at his late sister's house.

Inkatha is the Zulu-based organization that is the ANC's main political rival. Supporters of the two groups met in a spate of bloody clashes last year that left more than 1,000 people dead.

Alexandra residents and employees of the local clinic said they were confused by the recent violence in Alexandra, in which more than 60 people have been killed and scores have been wounded. The residents and employees said the violence seemed to involve outsiders.

"This is happening in the context of a major destabilizing of the township that's been going on for three weeks," said David Robb, administrator of the Alexandra Clinic. "It seems organized, and it seems professional. Our impression is that it's not the local Inkatha people. Locally, Inkatha is a small group. They were not particularly militant. But what's happened over the last three weeks was very professional and highly aggressive."

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