S. African inquiry blames Ciskei troops in shooting

October 01, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The shooting of hundreds of demonstrators Sept. 7 by heavily armed troops in the black homeland of Ciskei was "morally and legally indefensible," an independent judicial commission ruled yesterday.

The commission, headed by Richard Goldstone, a widely respected appeals court justice, expressed shock at the "prolonged and indiscriminate" nature of the shooting in which 29 people were killed and said it was "deliberately aimed at causing as many deaths and injuries as possible."

The inquiry also criticized the black members of the African National Congress who organized the demonstration for exposing their supporters "to the dangers of death and injury." But it said whatever the errors of the march organizers, "they cannot justify the conduct of the Ciskei soldiers."

The commission, appointed by President F. W. de Klerk, gave its 36-page report to the president and recommended that the attorney general of Ciskei investigate criminal charges against anyone responsible for the deaths and injuries during the massacre.

Twenty-eight demonstrators were killed and almost 200 injured when Ciskei troops opened fire on a mass protest demonstration organized by the ANC to call for free political activity in the homeland, a creation of apartheid located on the southeast coast of South Africa.

One Ciskei soldier also died in the shooting, prompting the territory's black military dictator, Brig. Oupa Gqozo, to charge that his troops had come under fire from the demonstrators, but nTC the judicial commission said the evidence strongly suggested the soldier was shot by one of his own men rather than a protester.

"The firing was indiscriminate, and even if there had been isolated firing from the demonstrators, the reaction of the Ciskei soldiers was completely disproportionate," according to the Goldstone Commission of Inquiry into Public Violence.

"The continued and prolonged firing was quite unjustified and unlawful," said the commission, which noted that the demonstrators were fleeing as the soldiers continued their barrage.

One group of soldiers fired 185 rounds of ammunition and four grenades, while another group fired 240 rounds into the crowd, the commission said.

The Ciskei government said it would have no immediate response to the Goldstone report. The ANC said it demonstrated overwhelmingly that the actions of the Ciskei troops "were deliberate and showed no regard for human life." John Hall, chairman of the National Peace Committee, a violence-monitoring group, said the Goldstone findings were "fair and reasonable."

The massacre jolted South Africa and led to an urgent meeting on violence last weekend between Mr. de Klerk and the ANC leader, Nelson Mandela. It also turned an international spotlight on the South African homelands, 10 territories set up under apartheid as black tribal areas. The homelands, run by blacks, depend on South African financial assistance and their governments are propped up with South African military help.

The ANC says most of them are pockets of repression, where opposition political parties are not allowed to operate. It maintains that South Africa's white-minority government continues to support the homeland governments to ensure black opposition to the ANC, the most popular black political organization in the country.

The government and the ANC are the key players in South Africa's on-again-off-again multi-party negotiations for a new democratic government. The leaders of three black homelands, Ciskei, KwaZulu and Bophuthatswana, have formed a loose alliance against the ANC in the negotiations.

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