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Whips, Guns Rout S. Africa Marchers : Riot Police Thwart Demonstrators Seeking Mandela's Freedom; 6 Dead

August 29, 1985|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Thousands of South Africans of all races defied the government Wednesday in demonstrations demanding the release of jailed black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela, but riot police, using tear gas, whips and shotguns, prevented them from marching on the prison where Mandela is held.

Six blacks were reported killed in Guguletu, one of Cape Town's ghetto townships, after police opened fire with tear-gas grenades, rubber bullets and birdshot on a crowd of more than 3,000 youths seeking to join the march on Pollsmoor Prison, about 15 miles outside Cape Town.

At least 65 blacks were injured in the Guguletu clashes, according to doctors at the clinic where they were treated, and more than 40 other people were treated for injuries suffered in other confrontations with police.

Dozens of arrests were made through the day as groups of protesters--whites, Indians and mixed-race Coloreds as well as blacks--repeatedly violated South Africa's strict ban on political demonstrations and challenged the minority white government with the threat of major civil disobedience.

Clergy, Professors Arrested

Those arrested, charged with participating in an illegal gathering, included prominent Christian and Muslim clergymen, university professors and leaders from Cape Town's large Colored community.

Although the demonstrations were scattered around Cape Town, taken together they constituted one of the largest and most multiracial protests in recent years against apartheid, South Africa's system of racial separation and minority white rule.

And although several ended in clashes with police, all began with the organizers' declared intention to keep them peaceful, in contrast with the spontaneous and increasingly violent protests in the country's black townships that have taken more than 650 lives over the past year.

The original organizer of the march on Pollsmoor Prison, the Rev. Allan Boesak, a founder of the United Democratic Front coalition of anti-apartheid groups, was detained by police Tuesday under security laws that permit indefinite detention without trial. He has been taken to Pretoria.

Student Group Outlawed

In its continuing crackdown on anti-apartheid organizations, the government Wednesday outlawed the Congress of South African Students, the largest and most active affiliate of the United Democratic Front. The order, aimed at breaking the 18-month-long boycott of black schools, makes it illegal for the group to continue to operate and for anyone to belong to it or promote its aims.

Large contingents of riot police, reinforced by combat troops, prevented the demonstrators from leaving Cape Town's suburbs and thwarted plans for a march by more than 25,000 on Pollsmoor. But the demonstrations appear to have made Mandela's release an issue able to unify the government's diverse opposition.

"The mobilization of the state's military might against unarmed marchers will not deter our people," the march's organizers said in a statement later Wednesday. "It will be an inspiration to our people to continue the struggle against apartheid."

Although police barred newsmen at gunpoint from Guguletu much of the day, policemen could be seen riding through the township in armored cars, firing tear-gas shells, rubber bullets and birdshot at groups of youths, who in turn pelted them with stones and a few gasoline bombs.

Large columns of smoke hung over the township most of the day as the youths set up barricades of burning cars and tires to block the police and army vehicles from entering.

The major clash came early in the morning when a large group of youths, chanting anti-government slogans and jogging in formation, attempted to cross a bridge out of the black township to reach the staging area for the march to Pollsmoor.

There they met more than 150 policemen and soldiers in armored cars and trucks. The security forces opened fire with an arsenal of anti-riot weapons, then pursued the fleeing youths through the township streets, firing as they went.

Armored Cars Chase Youths

"They just came and declared war on us," Robert Ndlovu, 38, a bank clerk, said as he watched the armored cars chase youths up and down the township's glass-littered streets. "You did not have to be in the march to get shot. You just had to be black and be here."

But the scene at Athlone, a Colored suburb where the march was to start Wednesday morning, recalled--at least at its start--many of those confrontations of the U.S. civil rights movement in the American South 25 years ago that have come to inspire anti-apartheid activists here.

Led by Christian and Muslim clergymen, more than 2,000 whites, blacks, Indians and Coloreds set off from the Hewat Training College. They had gone less than a mile when they were confronted by about 120 policemen, loading weapons and flexing their long plastic whips.

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