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Official, 7 Others Killed; ANC Suspected

July 31, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Black insurgents have assassinated a government minister in one of South Africa's troubled tribal homelands, blowing up his car, and stormed a police station in another region, killing seven people and wounding nine.

The two audacious attacks were apparently carried out by African National Congress guerrillas who have struck with increasing frequency and ferocity in recent months. Both occurred Tuesday night, but were not reported by government officials here until Wednesday.

Piet Ntuli, the interior minister of Kwandebele, was killed when his car was blown apart by a bomb about 8:35 p.m. Tuesday in the homeland's capital of Siyabuswa, about 100 miles northeast of here, the government's Information Bureau said. He was alone in the car, the bureau said, and no one else was injured. No further details were available.

More than 160 persons have been killed in Kwandebele in the last three months, according to clergymen and opposition politicians there, in a bitter dispute over plans by the homeland's leaders to accept nominal independence from South Africa in December. The Information Bureau describes the region as one of the most troubled in the country despite the tough policing that came with the nationwide state of emergency seven weeks ago.

Ntuli commanded a right-wing vigilante group accused of beating, torturing and killing opponents of Kwandebele independence. He was facing assault charges after he and Kwandebele's chief minister, Simon Skosana, allegedly whipped dozens of people who had been rounded up by the vigilantes after objecting to their villages' incorporation into the homeland.

Stolen Car Ring

He also faced charges of running a stolen car ring from his government offices in Siyabuswa and possessing a large cache of illegal weapons at his home there. He had earlier been tried but acquitted of murdering an opposition politician.

The attack on the police station in Umtata, the capital of the nominally independent Xhosa tribal homeland of Transkei, occurred an hour later Tuesday evening. At least three insurgents opened fire on police with AK-47 assault rifles during a change of shift.

Three policemen were killed, according to Transkei police, along with four civilians who were in the police station seeking curfew passes. Seven other policemen and two civilians were wounded in the fusillade, the police said in a statement.

But other Transkei officials said that the police station, which is on the outskirts of the city, had been devastated by three explosive devices, which had gone off simultaneously, and that the gunmen had then opened fire. The civilians were casualties of the bomb blast, they said, putting the number of police dead at five.

Residents in the area reported a loud explosion followed by heavy machine-gun fire as well as rifle shots. Several fire trucks rushed to the scene. Later, large contingents of Transkei police and soldiers took up positions around the university in Umtata in an apparent effort to apprehend suspects, but it was not known if any were taken into custody.

Gen. R. S. Mantanga, the Transkei police commissioner, said by telephone from Umtata, however, that although the gunmen had bombarded the police station with hand grenades, most had failed to explode. He denied there had been a large explosion or fire at the station.

ANC Blamed

Mantanga refused to speculate on who carried out the attack, but other Transkei officials blamed the African National Congress, which has stepped up its "armed struggle" across South Africa over the last year.

"From the evidence we have pieced together, the attack was obviously well planned," he said, "and we are hunting for those responsible. . . . As to who they are, well, wait until we catch them." He said that reports that six people had been arrested were incorrect.

Transkei, along the Indian Ocean coast between Durban and East London, is one of four black homelands, or bantustans, granted independence by South Africa but recognized by no other country; Kwandebele would be the fifth.

In Kangwane, another tribal homeland near the eastern Transvaal town of Nelspruit, a top government official was killed by three gunmen, and police said Wednesday that politics could be the the motive.

Zebulon Kunene, chairman of the Kangwane Public Service Commission and a director of the homeland's economic development corporation, was confronted by three men at his home during the weekend and, after a brief argument, shot to death. Robbery has been ruled out as a motive, police said.

May Have Been Reprisal

Local political observers speculated that Kunene may have been killed in reprisal for the assassination a month ago of another Kangwane politician, who had backed Pretoria's plans to give the region to neighboring Swaziland. Kunene was a strong supporter of Kangwane's chief minister, Enos Mabuza, who has recently developed close ties with the African National Congress.

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