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Blacks Attack Other Blacks in S. Africa : Witnesses Say Police Escorted Armed Mob in Hunt for Radicals

January 06, 1987|United Press International

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Police escorted more than 1,000 heavily armed black conservatives into a township near Port Elizabeth and watched as the mob beat young black radicals, smashed windows and burned furniture, witnesses said today.

A police spokesman said two blacks, ages 14 and 18, died in what he termed "faction fighting." He said the clashes were not politically motivated.

He declined to comment on eyewitness reports that police and soldiers escorted the mob with armored trucks and monitored the rampage from a helicopter hovering over the Kwanobuhle black township outside the coastal city of Port Elizabeth.

Unreported by Government

The attack was among three racial clashes since Saturday that have not been reported by the government's official Bureau for Information.

Those clashes, reported by black township residents, killed a mixed-race youth shot during an argument with a white man who insulted him and three youths who died in clashes near Johannesburg.

White human rights worker Rory Rearden said he interviewed victims of the attack in Kwanobuhle today and Monday, and visited eight houses that were attacked.

Rearden said the conservatives told residents they planned to crush yearlong protests against government policy, including boycotts of schools and white-owned stores.

'Comrades' the Target

Rearden said the conservatives were searching for members of a radical group called "the comrades."

"The attackers had a list of the names and addresses of prominent comrades and they went from one house to the next," Rearden said.

The comrades are young radicals loyal to the United Democratic Front, which is the country's largest legal opposition movement.

"They beat a number of people mercilessly and, where no one was at home, they dragged everything out of the houses and burned it in the street. They also smashed every window," he said.

Other witnesses, who declined to be identified, said the conservatives wore white headbands and carried sticks, ax handles, guns and spears. They said the mob was escorted by police.

Police Role Alleged

"Police and soldiers were everywhere," Rearden said. "The police clearly sanctioned the whole operation.

"They are absolutely committed to destabilizing the black areas and they will cooperate with anyone who can help them."

Reports on racial violence have been restricted since President Pieter W. Botha imposed a nationwide state of emergency on June 12. Additional press curbs announced Dec. 11 forbid almost all reports on security force action in an unrest area.

But lawyers said the police action could be reported despite the press censorship because it "constitutes unlawful police action and not action to quell unrest."

Witnesses said the attackers called themselves "AmaAfrica," which means "the people of Africa," and were sent by renegade radical leader Ebenezer Maqina, who has waged a brutal war against the United Democratic Front.

The attacks were similar to battles that left 17 people dead and about 70,000 homeless in the Crossroads squatter camp near Cape Town last June.

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