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S. Africa Protest of Hani Slaying Turns Violent

April 15, 1993|SCOTT KRAFT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Millions mourned black leader Chris Hani on Wednesday with one of the largest general strikes in South African history, but marches countrywide were marred by widespread looting and the killing of four protesters by police in Soweto.

The national protest, one of the most violent in months, reflected deep-seated anger over Hani's assassination last Saturday, allegedly by a white extremist, and growing discontent with the slow pace of negotiations in townships still beset by crippling poverty and hungry for change.

President Frederik W. de Klerk, in an interview Wednesday night on state-run national television, vowed to crack down on the rioting, promising to send 3,000 police and army reinforcements to join the 23,000-strong force already deployed to halt the escalating violence.

"What happened in South Africa today cannot be tolerated in any civilized country," he declared.

Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary general of the African National Congress, which called the nationwide day of mourning, said the protests were a success despite "the actions of quite a number of unruly people" when "the grief that they were feeling got the better of them."

"This was an unprecedented show of feeling by the majority of our people," Ramaphosa said. "People responded spontaneously, demonstrating their sorrow, their grief and anger as well as their frustration at the tragic death of comrade Chris Hani.

"The casualties have not been too numerous that one can say the whole event was disastrous," he added.

The bloodshed indicated once again the inability of the South African police to control protests without the use of deadly force, and ANC leaders were quick with sharp criticism of the authorities. But the rioting and looting that accompanied dozens of marches, from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth to Durban and Johannesburg, also indicated the inability of ANC leaders to control their more radical, youthful supporters.

Many of those followers have been suspicious of the ANC's decision to participate in constitutional negotiations with the white-minority government, and they have supported those talks only out of admiration for Hani, a popular ANC leader and key negotiator.

The bloodiest incident of the day occurred in Soweto, the sprawling black township on the edge of Johannesburg, where ANC President Nelson Mandela delivered an impassioned speech to 20,000 people crowding a soccer stadium, calling on his supporters to exhibit "the calm and dignity" expected of "a government in waiting."

After the speech, though, thousands left the stadium and gathered at the township's largest police station. Police opened fire on the crowd without warning, killing the head of the ANC's Soweto branch and three other protesters. More than 250 were injured, five critically.

ANC spokesman Carl Niehaus, who was at the scene, angrily described the shootings as "unprovoked police brutality. There can be no other conclusion than that they were shooting with the aim to kill."

A police spokesman, Capt. Eugene Henning, said officers had opened fire "to disperse the crowd to protect their (police) lives and property" after protesters attacked the station with bottles and stones. He denied that the police were using bullets, although the birdshot and buckshot often used for riot control here can cause mortal injuries at close range.

The angry mood in Soweto was evident even earlier, during Mandela's speech. Among the placards held aloft by the crowd were a few reading: "De Klerk Must Be Assassinated for Hani's Death."

Although Mandela was warmly welcomed onto the stage, he was booed and jeered when he made a friendly reference to expressions of sympathy for Hani's death from De Klerk's ruling National Party.

"I understand your anger," Mandela said. "There is no party that has been more responsible for your pain than the National Party." But he added: "We don't want to think of the past. We want to think of the present and the future."

During a march in Cape Town, black youths looted dozens of stores during a two-hour melee in which a black youth was shot to death, a peace monitor was stabbed, a policeman was shot and wounded and an ANC official, Trevor Manuel, was assaulted by his own supporters when he attempted to restore order.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel peace laureate, blamed the violence during the Cape Town protest march on "the lunatic fringe."

Most of the demonstrators, joined by former world heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali, "were peaceful, disciplined and listening to those in charge," Tutu said. "We mustn't let the lunatic fringe detract from the fact that many people of all races came to mourn."

Earlier, during a memorial service, Tutu said: "The greatest monument to Chris Hani is surely to show a like commitment to peace, to reconciliation and to the process of negotiating a settlement so that South Africa becomes the kind of country that all of us long for so desperately."

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