White S. African officer charged in connection with black deaths @

August 04, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A white police captain has been arrested in connection with the massacre in 1988 of 11 blacks in one of the most significant cases to date of police involvement in South Africa's township violence.

The arrest of the officer, Capt. B. V. Mitchell, was confirmed yesterday by South African police authorities, who said that he was named by two former constables as the man who ordered them to shoot black mourners at a funeral vigil on Dec. 3, 1988.

The massacre occurred before dawn, during an all-night wake near the town of New Hanover in Natal province, where thousands of blacks have died in factional violence since 1986.

The two former constables, both black, reportedly said that they were instructed by white officers to shoot terrorists who were gathered in a hut but that the "terrorists" turned out to be mourners.

The two men, David Khambula and Dumisani Ndwalane, were arrested in Natal on July 31. They admitted shooting into the house but pleaded not guilty on the grounds that they were misled by white officers.

"It was not my intention to go and shoot these people," Mr. Khambula told a magistrate's court hearing testimony in the case. "I was told there were terrorists there."

After the shooting, the two black constables said, the white officers instructed them not to report to work. "We were told to disappear because there were investigations," said Mr. Ndwalane.

The men said that they were instructed to join the police department in the Zulu homeland of KwaZulu, which is administered by black leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

News of the incident gives new ammunition to the African National Congress, which has charged repeatedly that white police officers have encouraged and participated in township violence.

The ANC has also accused the police of colluding with Chief Buthelezi's followers in an attempt to cause chaos and undermine the ANC, the most influential anti-apartheid organization in South Africa.

The arrest of the white policeman occurred only days after President F. W. de Klerk demoted Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok to defuse a controversy over police funding of Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha movement.

However, Mr. de Klerk strongly denied that the police force was behind the township violence, which has killed more than 6,000 people in the past five years. He said that any police officer involved with the violence would be prosecuted.

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