YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

S. Africa Hunts Police Killers; 7 Blacks Slain

January 23, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

BEKKERSDAL, South Africa — Seven blacks were shot to death and 40 were wounded in a search for the killers of two white South African policemen, authorities said Wednesday. Residents of this black township put the death toll at more than 10.

As hundreds of combat troops sealed off the township and patrolled its dusty streets through most of Wednesday, riot police conducted a house-to-house search for suspects. Police said they arrested 250 blacks, charging 11 with murder. The questioning of the others continued.

At one roadblock outside Bekkersdal, police said they found a Soviet-made AK-47 rifle and six hand grenades in a car driven by two blacks, who were arrested.

The two officers, a sergeant and a constable, were the first white policemen killed in 17 months of sustained civil unrest here, and their deaths brought a strong warning Wednesday from Louis le Grange, the South African minister of law and order, that "no mercy would be shown to people who attacked or killed policemen or prevented them from doing their duty."

"The present trend of vicious attacks on policemen cannot be tolerated," Le Grange said before a Cabinet meeting in Cape Town. "We will do everything within the law to protect ourselves and do our duty."

Twenty-two whites, including a young soldier on riot duty, have now died in South Africa's unremitting racial violence. Of these, 13 were killed in land-mine explosions and bomb blasts since mid-December after the African National Congress, fighting to overthrow white-minority rule, called on its supporters to step up their attacks on whites.

More than 1,100 people, mostly blacks and Coloreds--those of mixed race--have died since the violence began. Among those are about 20 black policemen, mostly killed by blacks as suspected government collaborators.

The attack on the two officers clearly stunned the police, who are so accustomed to the superiority that their firepower gives them that they had discounted the superiority of numbers that blacks might have in any confrontation.

The two policemen were beaten and stabbed to death late Tuesday afternoon when they tried to disperse about 500 black miners meeting on labor issues and local grievances, according to police spokesmen. Both bodies were badly mutilated, and one was partially burned.

Fired on Reinforcements

When police reinforcements arrived, the crowd fired on them with the two officers' shotguns and pistols, according to police spokesmen. That, too, was a development that police had not anticipated, and one that could foreshadow the murder of individual policemen to obtain their weapons.

The reinforcements returned fire as the miners fled from a field on the outskirts of Bekkersdal into the township, which is about 20 miles southwest of Johannesburg. A number of Bekkersdal residents were reported wounded in the shooting.

The gun battle continued through the night, according to Bekkersdal residents, as police encountered sniper fire as they attempted to track down those who took part in the meeting. One resident told of a miner shot and seriously wounded while hiding in a backyard outhouse, where he was left until morning. Another told of a youth virtually cut in two by shotgun blasts when he turned a corner and ran into a police patrol.

10 Reported Slain

Police initially reported that two blacks had been killed in the incident but updated the figure after other bodies were found during Wednesday's search. Father C.D. Moloye, an Anglican priest here, said that based on residents' reports, he believed that at least 10 were killed.

"The police were angry, and they were out for blood," said a schoolteacher who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. "One police officer told me that for each dead policeman, there would be 10, 20 dead blacks, and he meant it."

Police arrested anyone who had been wounded--a local doctor said two patients were taken out of his surgery--and all the miners they found in the town rather than in their hostel at a nearby gold mine.

At each house, they questioned everyone closely about who had participated in the meeting, residents said, and anyone with an unconvincing answer was arrested.

Official Assails Tutu

A senior Cabinet member, meanwhile, attacked Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate and the Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, accusing the black prelate of calling on the West to support the African National Congress' guerrilla war.

J. Christiaan Heunis, minister for constitutional development, said the government was "shocked by this call by the bishop who has been internationally honored for his contribution to peace. For a man of the cloth, his backing of a terrorist organization can only be described as deplorable," Heunis said in Cape Town.

Heunis did not say where or when Tutu had made the plea. The bishop, now on a speaking tour of the United States, has said frequently that he supports the aims of the African National Congress, which has long been outlawed here, but that he opposes the use of violence to achieve them.

In Krugersdorp, the major white town near Bekkersdal, black nationalist leader Winnie Mandela appeared briefly in court on charges of violating a government order barring her from living at her home in Soweto, outside Johannesburg. The case was postponed for four weeks.

More than 200 of her supporters, as well as a large contingent of newsmen, gathered around Mandela, wife of imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, after the court appearance until police, using a patrol car, broke up the group by driving through it. No one was hurt.

Los Angeles Times Articles