Troops in South Africa kill 28 protesters Forces in Ciskei shoot marchers

188 are injured

September 08, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Staff Writer dTC

BISHO, Ciskei -- Troops opened fire on thousands of black protesters in this South African-created black homeland yesterday, killing 28 supporters of the African National Congress and injuring almost 200.

The shooting was one of the worst at a protest demonstration in South Africa in recent years, and it threatened another major setback for efforts to bring political parties back into talks on the country's future.

It shocked and outraged the nation, which has been struggling for the past two years to overcome apartheid and the ugly image it created around the world. Church leaders and peace monitors agreed with protesters that the shooting was unprovoked.

ANC General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the shooting as "a completely unprovoked attack on unarmed and peaceful demonstrators." Mr. Ramaphosa, who was among the protesters, said the Ciskei troops fired point-blank without warning and kept up the shooting for almost 10 minutes as people fled in fear.

"We are not prepared to allow [South African President F. W.] de Klerk or any of his creations to continue killing our people," he said.

He said 28 people were killed in the massacre and 188 injured.

"This is a massacre, plain and simple," said Chris Hani, head of the South African Communist Party and one of the leaders of yesterday's march. "This is a war against the ANC, the most popular organization in this country. If they can't defeat the ANC politically, then they will try to defeat us with violence."

The Communist Party is a major ally of the ANC.

"It seemed so absolutely unnecessary. If this is a taste of things to come, then God help us," said John Hall, director of the National Peace Committee, which monitors violence across the country.

The South African Council of Churches also issued a statement in Johannesburg, expressing outrage at the blood bath and saying that ministers on the scene thought the shooting was unprovoked.

In Pretoria, the South African capital, Mr. de Klerk insisted his government had sought "to avoid just this" and said the blood bath could have been avoided if all parties had tried to cooperate.

He said South Africa would "continue to watch the situation with a view to stabilize the region and ensure the unrest does not get out of hand."

Thousands of South African troops were deployed to protect South African property in the black homeland, making the area look like a war zone throughout the day.

The incident began suddenly as about 80,000 protesters marched across the border from South Africa into the nominally independent homeland of Ciskei.

Ciskei is one of several homelands set up by South Africa under apartheid to create separate nations for blacks. The homelands, dependent on South African aid, have been failures, and most are dominated by authoritarian regimes. The homelands have been expected to reintegrate to South Africa under a new constitution to share power with the black majority.

Yesterday's march was staged to protest the Ciskei government, run by a military dictator, Brig. Joshua Oupa Gqozo (OU-pa COR-sa), a black who was installed by South Africa and continues to be propped up by Pretoria.

The crowd marched about three miles from a stadium inside King William's Town, on the South African side, to a soccer stadium just inside the Ciskei border, a division marked only with a small sign and no border post.

As the marchers moved into a soccer stadium just inside the border, which was lined with sharp razor wire because of the march, they were greeted by hundreds of Ciskei troops under the command of Brigadier Gqozo. The troops immediately unleashed a barrage of automatic rifle fire.

People fled screaming back toward the South African side. Some dropped to the ground to avoid the fire. Others fell as they were hit.

"They didn't talk. They just shot," said Noxhanti Putu, a young woman who lives on the King William's Town side and took part in the march.

"It's because he's a despot," another marcher, Pumzile Gozo, said of the Ciskei military leader. "He doesn't respect democratic rights."

Tensions had been building for months between the ANC and the Ciskei leader, who initially said he would not allow the ANC to step inside his territory.

He blocked another ANC march planned last month as part of a nationwide protest campaign, and he threatened to shoot ANC leader Nelson Mandela if Mr. Mandela came to Ciskei.

The ANC has mounted a major campaign against the black homeland system, saying that the 10 tribal homelands are creations of the white government and that its leaders are puppets of Pretoria.

Most of the homeland leaders are the government's allies in the stalled negotiations on a new constitution, while the ANC is supported by the Communist Party and the powerful labor union confederation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

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