JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Police today said four black gunmen killed a black lawyer who was defending 16 anti-apartheid activists against treason charges, but black activists blamed the slaying on the white-minority government.
Police appealed for help in tracing the killers of Nonyamezelo Mxenge, 43, and said it is useless to make "irresponsible, unfounded or unsubstantiated allegations" implicating South African authorities.
Police said the gunmen fired as Mxenge got out of a car at her home late Thursday in a black township near Durban. A police statement said the killers escaped by car.
Mxenge was defending 16 members of the United Democratic Front who are charged with treason. The front is the main organized opponent of South Africa's apartheid laws.
"It was a cold, cowardly and calculated assassination which the people and their organization will not accept without . . . desire for vengeance," said Lechesa Tsenoli, spokesman for the front in Natal province.
"In the light of a systematic campaign by the state to eliminate the UDF, this murder will be seen by many as the work of the state or its allies," Tsenoli said.
'Death Squad' Blamed
From its headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, the African National Congress called the killing the work of a "death squad of the (Prime Minister Pieter W.) Botha regime."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman called on South Africa to "find and prosecute the perpetrators of this heinous crime."
Mxenge's husband, Griffiths, also a leading opposition attorney, was stabbed to death in 1981. Police never solved his slaying.
In the southeast coastal city of Durban today, about 2,000 black students chanting anti-American slogans spilled into the city center in the third demonstration in a week against Washington's policy of "constructive engagement" with Pretoria.
Police looked on for about an hour, then moved in with dogs and arrested 52 of the protesters, witnesses said. One man was badly bitten on the arm by a police dog.
At a protest meeting before the demonstration, Roman Catholic Archbishop Denis Hurley told a black audience that there is "no way the feelings of black people can be mollified."
'People at End of Tether'
Calling on the government to lift the state of emergency, he said people are ready to die to bring about change.
"We have reached that point. People are at the end of their tether," Hurley said.
Meanwhile today, the South African government agreed to hold talks with three European foreign ministers to discuss concerns over the 10 months of racial violence and state of emergency.
Dutch Ambassador Hugo Carstens requested the visit Thursday on behalf of 10 Common Market nations and Spain and Portugal.
Many of South Africa's original colonizers were Dutch.
A South African Foreign Ministry spokesman said the country will welcome the foreign ministers from Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands but said the visit will "not imply any right to interfere in South Africa's internal affairs."