Attack kills four whites in S. Africa 17 hurt

police suspect radicals

November 30, 1992|By New York Times News Service

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Gunmen with automati rifles and hand grenades burst into a wine-tasting party at a predominantly white golf club Saturday night, killing two couples at their dinner table and leaving 17 people seriously injured.

Police said that they had no firm evidence that the killers, at least two of whom were young black men, were politically or racially motivated but that they were working on the assumption that the attack in King William's Town was an act of terrorism.

If so, it seems to have been the first such attack on white civilians since the late 1980s.

In the past year, such seemingly random attacks on social gatherings have become almost commonplace in black townships, but they have not spilled into white areas.

The assault stunned the sleepy, closely knit Eastern Cape hamlet, 625 miles southeast of Johannesburg, and it was likely to sow alarm in other white communities, where the ruling minority lives behind eight-foot walls and loops of razor wire.

King William's Town, a former British colonial town, lies in a region where many of the violent currents of South African

politics cross.

The guerrilla wing of the militant Pan-Africanist Congress has claimed responsibility for some attacks on police and white merchants in the region, and police seemed inclined to focus suspicion on that group.

Lt. Colonel Christo Louw, the police spokesman in East London, the regional capital, said Molotov cocktails lobbed at the outside of the golf club during the attack were of a distinctive kind used by this group, known as the Azanian People's Liberation Army.

Some local residents noted that the attack came just as the white government and black political leaders were on the verge of resuming negotiations to complete the transition to majority rule. They speculated that the attack might have been the work of rogue police or military officers intent on sabotaging the negotiations.

It seemed unlikely, however, that the attack would have a major political impact unless police could establish high-level involvement by one of the major political factions.

Police and witnesses said the gunmen burst into the King William's Town Golf Club as 55 members of the King Wine Circle, a wine-tasting club that includes much of the town gentry, were eating. The guests were all white, and included the local member of Parliament.

While some gunmen fired their rifles and lobbed grenades at the diners, others attacked the adjoining bar, where a separate crowd was celebrating the end of a golf tournament.

"The result was absolute carnage," said Ray Radue, a member of Parliament who was at the club with his wife. "The attack was a totally unprovoked act of terrorism against innocent people."

Police said two of the 17 wounded were black waiters.

An unusually large $17,000 reward for information was quickly offered by police, and police increased patrols in the predominantly white town.

In the mid-1980s, the underground guerrilla wing of the African National Congress conducted a brief campaign of bombings aimed at white gatherings. In 1988 the ANC renounced attacks on "soft targets" -- meaning civilians -- and suspended its guerrilla war altogether in February 1990 after President F. W. de Klerk lifted the ban on conventional opposition politics.

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