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S. African Miners Riot, Kill 2 White Policemen

January 22, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Two white South African policemen were beaten and stabbed to death Tuesday when they tried to break up a political meeting by more than 500 black miners southwest of here, a police spokesman in Pretoria reported.

The rioting gold miners then seized the two officers' shotguns and pistols and used them on police reinforcements during a short gun battle. Two blacks were also killed in the incident.

The two policemen were the first white constables to die in 17 months of sustained civil unrest here, and their deaths seemed likely to intensify the anger among South African whites who are coming increasingly under attack.

Members of Riot Squad

The officers, members of the regional riot squad, apparently were surrounded when they arrived late Tuesday afternoon to disperse the meeting of miners and residents from Bekkersdal, a black township about 20 miles southwest of Johannesburg. The meeting was called to discuss local grievances and work out a plan of protest action.

Before reinforcements could arrive, the two policemen were attacked with war clubs, machetes and knives and killed, according to a spokesman at police headquarters in Pretoria. The blacks then fired on the reinforcements with the officers' weapons before fleeing into Bekkersdal. The policemen's mutilated bodies were found near their heavily damaged vehicle.

Hundreds of police, backed by combat troops, quickly surrounded Bekkersdal and began house-to-house searches.

The deaths of the policemen brought to 22 the number of whites killed in the civil unrest here since September, 1984. Sixteen have died since mid-December. While relatively few when compared with the 1,100 blacks killed in the same period, the increasing number of white casualties has given many South African whites the feeling that they are now under siege and no longer safe.

The incident also appears to mark a serious escalation in South Africa's unremitting violence, not only in the deaths of two white policemen, but also in the readiness of blacks to use guns against the police.

Until now, the security forces' firepower seemed sufficient to ensure their superiority in any confrontation. But on Tuesday they were overwhelmed, at least initially, by the sheer numbers of blacks, angry and not intimidated by the police weapons.

The organizers, participants and purpose of Tuesday's meeting, described by police as an "illegal gathering," remained unclear. According to black political sources in nearby Soweto, Johannesburg's black satellite city, the group seems to have been drawn from both miners and town residents. The meeting was aimed at overcoming sharp differences between the two groups, particularly on political questions.

Police earlier had reported finding the badly charred body of a black woman in a black township on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. She apparently was killed by other blacks who suspected her of collaborating with the minority white government. About a third of the blacks killed in recent months have been killed by other blacks.

Businessmen Offer Plan

Meanwhile, a major business group has put forward a bold plan in Johannesburg for political reform in South Africa, starting with the abolition of apartheid and minority rule and continuing to the establishment of a democratic government based on the constitutional principle of one-man, one-vote.

The Federated Chamber of Industries, the largest employers' organization in the country, proposed a charter of human rights and an "action program" for sweeping political, economic and social changes. It bluntly told the government of President Pieter W. Botha that time has run out for step-by-step reforms and that dramatic, profound moves are urgently needed.

The group called upon the government to create a climate for negotiation by releasing all political prisoners, abolishing discriminatory laws, permitting blacks to work and live wherever their skills and wealth allow--and by sharing governmental power with the country's black majority.

"Concrete results must be produced urgently," the group said in its reform program, which was presented to the government earlier this week. "The unacceptable alternative is the negative reaction of retreating into growing economic and political isolationism and a drift into a repressive siege society. . . . "

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