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S. Africa Police Report Massacre of 32 Blacks

April 15, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The charred bodies of 32 blacks were found Monday in shallow graves in a remote rural area northeast of Johannesburg in what police said was apparently a politically inspired massacre of their rivals by members of one group.

Col. Philip Moloto, assistant police commissioner in the autonomous tribal homeland of Lebowa, said that 67 people, mostly members of the United Democratic Front coalition of anti-apartheid groups, have been detained in connection with the murders, but that none has yet been charged.

At least 13 of the bodies bore marks of the "necklace," a ritualized form of killing in which a gasoline-soaked tire is hung around the victim's neck and then set on fire. Other victims appeared to have been beaten unconscious, doused with gasoline and set afire, according to police. The authorities believe that the murders were committed at least two weeks ago.

More Revelations Possible

More graves may be uncovered, police said, in further searches of the vacant scrub land in Sekhukhune district, about 180 miles northeast of Johannesburg. Few of the victims have been identified so far.

Thirteen more people were killed Monday in South Africa's continuing civil strife, according to police headquarters in Pretoria; eight were killed by other blacks, police said, and five were shot in clashes with the authorities.

Six bodies, all burned beyond recognition, were found by police among 20 huts that had been set afire Sunday at Mooiplaas, near the coastal industrial center of East London. Three other bodies, also badly burned, had been found there late Sunday.

Rival black political groups have fought recently in Mooiplaas, Duncan Village and other East London townships, but local anti-apartheid activists now blame government infiltrators for intensifying the feud. An additional issue in Mooiplaas has been its proposed incorporation into the nominally independent Xhosa tribal homeland of Ciskei.

Port Elizabeth Violence

Two other blacks, a man and a woman, were burned to death in separate incidents outside Port Elizabeth, both apparently as suspected collaborators of the white-minority government. On Saturday, a 22-year-old woman, a suspected police informer, was hacked to death and then set on fire by a mob in the black ghetto of Alexandra in Johannesburg's northeast suburbs, according to a harrowing account published Monday in the black-edited Sowetan newspaper.

Police said that two men were shot dead by a black policeman at Daveyton, a ghetto township east of Johannesburg, when he opened fire on a crowd of 300 threatening to attack him. Two more men were killed near Cradock in eastern Cape province when police fired rifles at a mob stoning the homes of black policemen there. A fifth man was killed at Tantje, also in the eastern Cape, when police used shotguns to disperse attackers throwing firebombs at them, according to police headquarters in Pretoria.

Motives for the apparent massacre near the village of Phashankona in Sekhukhune were far from clear Monday despite police suggestions that rival black political groups had clashed, probably over Easter or a week earlier--perhaps in a bid for control of the area.

Although supporters of the United Democratic Front have fought bitterly with their rivals over the past year, little trouble had been reported in this remote, sparsely populated farming area, and black political activists were stunned by the reported killings.

Tribalism, Witchcraft

While allowing that the deaths may be due to tribal rivalries or an attack on suspected witches and their supporters, Lebowa police nevertheless continued their roundup of leaders of local anti-apartheid groups.

One of those detained for questioning, Peter Nchabeleng, the United Democratic Front's regional president in northern Transvaal province, died shortly after his arrest. Police said Nchabeleng, 59, a veteran activist and former political prisoner, had apparently suffered a heart attack while being questioned at a police station. His family has asked for an investigation of the death.

Lebowa, like most of South Africa's 10 autonomous or nominally independent tribal homelands, had until recently been spared most of the violence of the country's civil strife. But anti-government protests have spread there in the last four months, reaching even remote farming villages as youths have returned from school and workers from jobs in the cities. Lebowa is the designated homeland for the country's Pedi people.

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