Supporters slain in their sleep in Natal

15 ANC

February 20, 1994|By New York Times News Service

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Gunmen in the polarized Zulu province of Natal surrounded sleeping supporters of the African National Congress early yesterday and killed 15 in what ANC leaders feared was the first big blow of a violent anti-election campaign.

Zibuse Mlaba, a Zulu chief who is also an ANC leader in the area, said the victims, most of them teen-agers, had put up posters in the nearby town of Creighton on Friday and were preparing for a voter education program yesterday.

Police said the group had been shot and stabbed just after midnight as they slept in an abandoned house in the village of Mahlele, in southern Natal.

Mr. Mlaba blamed the attack on "those who don't want people to vote," alluding to the Inkatha Freedom Party, which a week ago announced that it would defy the elections.

Police said they also believed that the attack was political, although they declined to elaborate.

Despite new concessions from the ANC last week and hints of further negotiating room by Nelson Mandela, Inkatha has shown no sign of reconsidering its boycott.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi told a radio station in Johannesburg yesterday that even if Inkatha's demands for strong provincial autonomy were fully satisfied, he would not have time to mount an effective campaign in the nine weeks remaining before the election.

"It's not really fair, if our concerns are met now they don't consider giving us space to campaign and electioneer," Mr. Buthelezi said. Mr. Mandela has been adamant that the election date of April 26-28 will not be changed.

In another attack that fit a recent pattern of anti-election violence, a bomb destroyed four classrooms of a black primary school in the far northern town of Mopane.

The region is a stronghold of white resistance to majority rule, and the explosion was the latest in a series of blasts across the Transvaal and Orange Free State provinces.

Police have attributed the explosions to right-wing whites opposed to the elections.

Natal, a predominantly Zulu province, has been the main arena of conflict between Inkatha and the ANC. Of the more than 3,000 blacks killed last year in political violence, nearly 2,000 died in Natal.

Mass killings have been a signature of the factional rivalry, but yesterday's attack is the first since Inkatha announced that it would defy the elections, and the first evidently directed against a group of election canvassers.

Mr. Mlaba told the South African Press Association that the region of the killing had been peaceful lately, although two weeks ago 12 women and children from ANC households were killed about 30 miles away.

In hopes of warding off just such violence, Mr. Mandela agreed last week to constitutional amendments that would strengthen provincial governments and open the way for the creation of enclaves with a strong ethnic identity.

The ANC also agreed to drop its insistence that South Africans cast only one ballot for a party to represent them in both the new South African parliament and provincial legislatures. Critics said a one-ballot system would severely handicap parties like Inkatha with support concentrated in a particular region.

The white-run Parliament is expected to meet the first week in March to enact the changes and to reopen registration for any parties willing to join the campaign. The registration deadline passed Feb. 12.

Mr. Mandela said at a news conference Friday in the Netherlands that further concessions would be considered.

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