Trip to survey S. African violence ends in death

January 10, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Gunmen firing on an entourage that included top officials of the African National Congress (ANC) killed a news photographer and wounded two others in a violence-torn black township.

The ANC officials, Cyril Ramaphosa and Joe Slovo, were visiting Katlehong township, 12 miles southeast of Johannesburg, to see first-hand the violence that has plagued it in recent months.

Witnesses said their group came under AK-47 rifle fire when it entered a section of the township about 500 yards from a hostel which was apparently the source of the gunfire.

Most of the violence in Katlehong has been attributed to turf wars between ANC supporters and hostel residents who back the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, though ANC officials admitted this week that feuding among its members has been responsible for some deaths.

Mr. Ramaphosa, secretary-general of the ANC, and Mr. Slovo, head of the South African Communist Party, were immediately pushed to the ground by their bodyguards when the shots rang out and quickly moved away as a gun battle ensued, with bodyguards and township residents returning the fire.

During the battle, journalists and peace monitors accompanying the ANC group were pinned down behind houses, many of the dwellings burned out and abandoned during the political fighting.

Thirty-one-year-old Abdul Shariff, a South African free-lance photographer working for the Associated Press, sustained a chest wound and died at nearby Natalspruit hospital. (Some witnesses had said he was shot in the back as he ran across an open field.)

Two other journalists were wounded, both employees of the South African Broadcasting Corp. Charles Moikanyane was in stable condition with a wound to his hip, and Antha Warne suffered what was described as a flesh wound.

"Now the general public knows what the situation is like," Nelson Mandela, president of the ANC, said in a television interview last night.

"This attack came from the hostel, completely unprovoked."

An ANC spokesman denounced South African police for failing to protect the visitors, while police, whose activities in Katlehong have often been attacked by the ANC, countered that they were not asked to provide protection.

Police did claim to have shot and killed one gunman and arrested three others in the aftermath of the attack.

The attack calls into question the possibility of an unfettered political campaign as South Africa prepares for its first multiracial election on April 27. Top Inkatha officials have said the party will not participate in that election because they oppose the country's new constitution for not giving enough power to local regions.

Both Mr. Ramaphosa and Mr. Slovo sit on the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), the multiracial, multiparty group set up to watch over the government in the months leading up to the election. Their visit was in preparation for a TEC meeting tomorrow that is supposed to take up the question of violence in Katlehong and neighboring townships.

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