Grief and rage tear S. Africa 6 die as mourning for slain leader turns violent

April 15, 1993|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A day of mourning for a slain black leader turned into a day of riots and rage yesterday as more than a million South Africans staged rallies and demonstrations and many defied their leaders' pleas for peaceful protest.

At least six people were killed and violence broke out in most urban centers in the aftermath of the assassination Saturday of Communist Party leader Chris Hani.

It was the most widespread rioting in South Africa since the anti-tax riots in 1991.

Four of the victims were killed when police in the black township of Soweto fired on demonstrators who had marched from a packed stadium to the police station, where they jeered officers and a few protesters threw stones.

The African National Congress expressed outrage at the shooting, in which more than 200 demonstrators were injured, saying police had used live ammunition, in addition to bird shot, and tear gas on a crowd that was already dispersing.

In the wake of the violence, President F. W. de Klerk said he would add 3,000 men to 23,000-strong anti-riot units deployed to deal with the violence sweeping the country.

He also threatened a police clampdown on trouble areas.

"We are not going to allow this country to degenerate into chaos," Mr. De Klerk said in a national television address after meeting with his security council. "However shocking Hani's murder was, it could not in any way justify what happened today."

ANC official Cyril Ramaphosa countered that there had been violence, but that the majority of demonstrators had shown tremendous restraint, given the anger and tension created by Mr. Hani's slaying, allegedly by a member of a fanatical, militaristic white group.

"People are angry. People are mourning. We understand how they feel," he said, given that a black leader of Mr. Hani's stature had been killed.

Mr. Hani was a prominent member of the ANC in addition to being the Communist Party leader in South Africa. He had served as chief of the ANC's guerrilla army in exile and was tremendously popular, especially among young township activists.

His death has shocked and angered millions, leading black leaders to make daily appeals for calm.

Both the ANC and the South African Communist Party, historically close allies, have said the killing of Mr. Hani should not halt the country's pro-democracy negotiations, which the slain leader had supported.

Many Hani supporters believe South African government security forces may be linked to the killing.

Law and Order Minister Hernus Kriel announced yesterday that two foreign experts would be named to take part in the investigation of the Hani killing to prove to the black leader's supporters that state police were not covering up anything.

Rioting erupted yesterday at a number of demonstrations JTC despite appeals from black leaders, including ANC President Nelson Mandela, who went on state television for the second night in a row to ask South Africans to remain calm in the face of the country's death-strewn path toward the end of apartheid.

In Cape Town, there was mayhem as running street battles took place between protesters and police.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop of South Africa and one of the country's most prominent black leaders, had to be hustled away from the scene by aides when he tried to ask demonstrators to be peaceful.

Two people were reported killed in Cape Town rioting.

In Durban, an estimated 150,000 demonstrators marched downtown but the peaceful march turned nasty when some began a looting and burning spree that shocked the city.

There also were reports of looting and stone-throwing in Pietermaritzburg, west of Durban, and in Port Elizabeth in the southeastern part of the country.

The most casualties were in Soweto where police fired on thousands of demonstrators outside the Protea Police Station.

"They did not shoot any warning shots. They shot point blank into the crowd, and they were using live ammunition. They just started shooting," said ANC spokesman Carl Niehaus.

He said the demonstrators had been angry but posed no threat to police and were moving away when the shooting began.

"This kind of action by police is exactly what will lead this country to bloodshed and . . . the consequences in days to come must be laid squarely at the door of the police force," he told reporters.

The same crowd -- estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000 -- had been addressed earlier by Mr. Mandela, who struggled to keep them from turning rowdy as he called for restraint.

Many booed Mr. Mandela when he said he wanted to continue negotiations with Mr. de Klerk's National Party for democracy and majority rule.

"Steady, please, steady," the ANC leader urged.

Mr. Ramaphosa, the ANC's third-ranking leader, said his organization estimated that 1.5 million people had stayed away from work to mark Mr. Hani's death in a day of mourning called by the ANC, the Communist Party and labor unions.

The South African Chamber of Business confirmed that the stay-away had been successful, saying 90 percent to 100 percent of workers in South Africa's major industrial areas had stayed home.

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