Whites fire on 2 bus loads of blacks in spiraling S. African racial violence

December 25, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- White gunmen fired on tw buses packed with black passengers yesterday in Christmas Eve attacks that marked a new phase in South Africa's continuing violence.

The attacks seemed to signal the beginning of a nasty race war that had been threatened by farmers and right-wing politicians following the murder of three whites on farms in the conservative Orange Free State.

One black bus driver was shot to death and 12 passengers were injured when a minibus overturned after being shot at by whites in a red pickup truck, police reported.

In the second incident, three blacks were seriously injured when gunmen in a red truck opened fire on a packed minibus on another road in Orange Free State. Police spokeswoman Johlene van der Merwe said the two incidents apparently involved the same truck.

The attacks followed warnings from angry farmers that they would take the law into their own hands if authorities could not protect their families from armed assailants who have hit several farms in recent weeks.

Piet Gouws, president of the Free State Agricultural Union, warned reporters hours before the attacks that "a miniwar" was near.

Responding to the attacks, African National Congress spokesman Carl Niehaus called on all South Africans to avoid "being drawn into a cycle of racist violence."

President F. W. de Klerk, in a Christmas message yesterday, urged South Africans "not to play into the hands of radicals."

Police and religious leaders in Orange Free State also called for calm.

"This is a recipe for civil war," said the Rev. Johan van Rensburg of the Free State Dutch Reformed Church. "If there was ever a time for people to remain calm, it is now."

Leonie Pretorius, a 14-year-old white girl, was killed Saturday while watching television in her parents' farm house near Ficksburg in Orange Free State. Two days later, Koos Ward, 70, and his daughter Anne, 32, were shot to death by attackers at their farmhouse near the town of Theunissen. His 68-year-old wife, Anna, was hospitalized in critical condition.

In both cases, the attackers were black, but police were unsure whether the motive was robbery or politics.

In the Eastern Cape region, five people were killed and 40 injured in attacks earlier this month, the first such assaults on white civilians in many years.

Leaders of the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), the military wing of the leftist Pan Africanist Congress, said they had declared war on all whites in opposition to apartheid. Virtually every political group in the country except the PAC deplored the overtly racist attacks.

The farm killings enraged conservative white farmers, who are demanding protection from the government and requesting that police supply them with automatic weapons.

Mr. Gouws, a conservative member of Parliament, advised farmers this week to launch raids into neighboring black homelands and squatter camps to "wipe out the terrorists."

Right-wingers have given the government until Sunday to clean out APLA bases believed to be in nearby black homelands. The government has stationed policemen on every farm in the

affected region that borders the homelands.

The first threats against blacks came from the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group that seemed to be fading as a political force until the APLA attacks on whites. The far-right group began patrolling roads and signing up new members among the frightened and frustrated white farm communities.

Before the Christmas Eve assaults, its spokesmen had threatened to retaliate for the slayings of whites by launching random attacks on blacks.

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