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S. Africa Unions Clash; 10 Black Miners Killed

June 08, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Ten black miners were killed and at least 115 others were injured in a pitched battle between two unions, bitter political rivals, over whether to strike a South African coal mine this weekend for higher wages and better working conditions, police reported Saturday.

Members of the National Union of Mineworkers, the country's largest black union, which favored the strike, were decisively beaten in the clash Friday evening by miners belonging to the new United Workers Union of South Africa, which supports Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the moderate Zulu leader, and which opposed the work stoppage.

Nearly 4,000 miners, armed with pickaxes, machetes and clubs as well as sticks and stones, were involved in the brief, bloody battle at a coal mine belonging to Iscor, the state-owned steel company, at Hlobane in northern Natal province, about 200 miles southeast of here, according to police. The clash was one of the bloodiest in the growing black political feuds.

"The National Union of Mineworkers, which had called for a work stoppage, were about to go out on strike when members of the other union moved in," Col. Fritz Brand, commander of the regional police riot squad, said Saturday. "It was really all over in a matter of minutes. Three were killed at the scene, seven others died of their injuries, at least 115 were injured and several hundred members of the Mineworkers Union fled into the bush and mountains. The mine is now at a standstill, and the situation is tense but quiet."

Test of Strength

The clash was the first test of strength between an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which basically supports the outlawed African National Congress in its efforts to end minority white rule here, and Buthelezi's new union, which was formed last month to bolster his claim to leadership of the country's 25 million blacks. Neither union was willing to comment Saturday on the clash.

The rivalry between the African National Congress and its allies and Buthelezi's predominantly Zulu Inkatha political movement has left scores dead in recent months around Durban, Natal's principal city, and the union struggle will probably bring increased violence.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, renewed his call for blacks to stop killing each other.

"The world is with us. . . . Why are we killing one another in this way?" Tutu said Saturday at a funeral in Soweto outside Johannesburg for a slain church worker, Diliza Matshoba, who had tried to mediate between feuding black groups there.

'Noble Cause'

Tutu told the 2,000 mourners: "We have such a wonderful, noble cause. . . . Please let us not use methods of which we will be ashamed." Matshoba's family believes he was murdered by conservative black vigilantes in Soweto.

In the Johannesburg suburb of Kempton Park, black youths went on a brief rampage through the town's shopping district Saturday morning, hurling firebombs at six stores and firing pistols randomly at terrified white shoppers.

The only injuries were suffered by a white security guard, who was stabbed and clubbed, and a white shop clerk who was nicked with a knife. Fires at two stores caused an estimated $400,000 in damage. The black youths, who may have numbered only two, escaped.

The incident was the third Saturday morning attack in recent months in a suburban Johannesburg town. It heightened fears of possible violence, some of it directed at whites, on June 16, the 10th anniversary of the 1976 black riots that began in Soweto, the largest black ghetto in South Africa, and swept the country for the next 10 months. Armed white soldiers are now patrolling many suburban shopping centers.

The government has already prohibited all meetings to commemorate what blacks call the "Soweto Uprising," and well-informed political sources say that it will decide shortly whether to reimpose a state of emergency, giving the police virtual martial-law powers, in an effort to contain the anticipated violence.

"Traditionally now, the period around June 16 is the one the radicals attempt to exploit," state-run Radio South Africa said in a commentary, noting that the government has intelligence about plans for widespread, potentially violent protests on that date. "Should they try to do so again this year, the security forces will deal with the situation decisively."

Police headquarters in Pretoria reported Saturday that five more blacks have been killed in the country's continuing civil strife.

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