The brigadier and his murdered people Ciskei slayings cast doubt on homelands

September 09, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Staff Writer

NOTANGA, Ciskei -- Brig. Joshua Oupa Gqozo has few friends in this poverty-stricken rural village in the rolling hills of Ciskei, the South African black homeland where hope for the future encounters apartheid's brutal remnants.

The military leader, whose troops gunned down 28 demonstrators Monday in the city of Bisho southwest of here, is despised for imposing a repressive system under which the local people say they can't even hold a meeting without being harassed.

"I would be happy if I heard that Gqozo has passed away," says Patricia Mbutuma, a young woman who supports the African National Congress (ANC), the brigadier's arch-enemy. She says many other residents share her hatred.

Miss Mbutuma, 27, was imprisoned for a week and beaten by police after she helped organize a community meeting a year ago. The meeting was called to discuss a new "head man" imposed on the village by Brigadier Gqozo's government.

Brigadier Gqozo, a former black South African military officer who is said to be in his mid-30', has been in power here since a coup in 1990.

"We wanted him to introduce himself and say who elected him," she said of the new leader the brigadier sent to their village, knowing that no one had elected the new man. But the meeting was broken up by police, who shot tear gas into the open field where the people gathered.

Eighty-six people were arrested, one woman was killed in the gunfire unleashed by the police and another, Nolungele Mbawu, was shot in the leg.

Mrs. Mabawu, a frail woman of 52, hobbles around on crutches now and sings the praises of the ANC.

"Even if my leg was not shot, I would be a member of the ANC," she says. "But I'm more so because of my leg."

Notanga is a village of neat houses made of sun-baked mud where herd boys tend cows and girls rub red clay on their faces for protection against the sun. The people here say they will continue to defy the homeland government.

"We don't want Gqozo's government. We want the people's government," says Miss Mbutuma, secretary of a local residents' association.

"Democracy. We want democracy," adds one of several young men standing outside Mrs. Mabawu's round white-washed house.

They say they walked three hours to Bisho Monday to take part in the ANC march, which was called to protest Brigadier Gqozo's military regime. Political opposition doesn't happen without trouble in Ciskei. The Monday rally was permitted only after the ANC insisted it would go ahead despite the ban. Frantic negotiations had taken place, with the help of the National Peace Committee, a violence monitoring group that sought to avert a confrontation and possible bloodbath.

Steve Tshwete, a national organizer for the ANC, says the demonstration was organized because ANC members in the region wanted to make a stand against Brigadier Gqozo.

"The issue is that the region has been seized by this problem for a long time, this lack of free activity and this repression," he says, standing among a group of protesters still standing yesterday at the site of Monday's massacre after an all-night vigil for the dead.

For the ANC, the issue is also the existence of the homelands, relics of apartheid where the black leaders operate with the approval and support of the South African government. Most of the homeland leaders are aligned with the government against the ANC in negotiations on South Africa's future, another sore point for the ANC.

South Africa created the homelands at the height of apartheid in order to deprive blacks of their citizenship and separate them from white South Africans. It considers the Ciskei an independent country, a home for the Xhosa tribe, the second largest ethnic group in South Africa after the Zulus.

Officially, the population of Ciskei is more than 1.5 million, but many of those are citizens on paper only who have never lived here. Of the million or so who do live here, most earn their livings outside of the homeland.

The homelands are not recognized by any other country in the world as separate countries but are seen as part of South Africa. The current political negotiations, which have been stalled for almost three months over a dispute between the ANC and the government, are expected to result in their formal reincorporation.

In the meantime, the ANC believes the South African government depends on the homelands to ensure that the ANC cannot organize freely throughout the country in preparation for eventual elections.

"The objective of this regime is to engage in negotiations with an ANC that is weak and limping," says Mr. Tshwete, one of the leaders of the Monday march.

He believes Ciskei is an important part of the South African government's strategy. "They think they can restrain us in Natal, and now they want to extend that to this area," he says in a roadside interview at the border between Ciskei and South Africa.

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