Attack on ANC officials turns S. African politicians' attention to violence

January 12, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

PRETORIA, South Africa -- A weekend attack on an entourage led by African National Congress officials got the attention of South Africa's top political leaders, who focused on the issue of violence in two meetings yesterday.

On Sunday, ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa and South African Communist Party head Joe Slovo were touring the township of Katlehong in the East Rand area near Johannesburg when they came under fire, apparently from a nearby hostel. A free-lance photographer was killed and two journalists wounded.

Yesterday, South African President F. W. de Klerk and ANC President Nelson Mandela met for four hours, talking mainly about violence in the East Rand, where 1,200 people have died since May.

Later, the issue was taken up by the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), which is overseeing the country in the months leading up to South Africa's first nonracial election April 27. Both Mr. Ramaphosa and Mr. Slovo sit on the TEC.

Though nothing was specifically resolved -- Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela said they would meet again next week, while the TEC appointed a subcommittee and task force -- the meetings did mark at least a temporary end to the mutual finger-pointing that usually follows such violent outbursts.

Mr. Mandela often has accused Mr. de Klerk's government of at the least insensitivity, and at the most direct involvement, in township violence. After Sunday's shooting, he said that he would present the president with a plan and, that if it were not accepted, the country would face a crisis.

But in a news conference after the meeting at the president's offices, both men appeared sincerely pleased with the progress that was made.

"No one has a black eye here," Mr. Mandela said. "We talked in a spirit of reconciliation."

"We saw each other's deep concern with this totally unacceptable situation," Mr. de Klerk said. "People are dying every day. That must come to an end."

Neither would talk about the specifics of their discussion, claiming the sensitivity of the situation precluded that.

Mr. de Klerk said that some of Mr. Mandela's proposals meshed with the government's plans and that the two would meet again next week to talk about implementing specific anti-violence measures.

The Inkatha Freedom Party was the only party to fall back on finger-pointing yesterday, as its Johannesburg-area leader, Themba Khoza, said that the Sunday shooting was the fault of the ANC because it had not consulted with proper authorities before sending the entourage into Katlehong.

Mr. Ramaphosa gave a moving speech before the TEC about the situation on the East Rand. He said the shooting incident made those involved realize "the reality of the life of people on the East Rand."

"We found out for ourselves that on the East Rand death stalks people on a daily basis," he said.

He also talked of the total breakdown, not only of law and order, but also of other elements of life -- schooling, health care, religion -- because of the level of violence.

The TEC then appointed a two-member subcommittee to look specifically at the security issues and planned to appoint a task force to look into the larger issues of the quality of life in these townships.

Mr. Ramaphosa also said that the TEC's management committee should visit these troubled areas, "to see for themselves what the situation is and to pledge their solidarity with these people, to let them know that they are not alone in their suffering."

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