MMABATHO, South Africa — The three white men in ripped khaki uniforms and boots lay sprawled Friday beside their bullet-riddled blue Mercedes-Benz. One man was dead, his head in a pool of gore, while the other two bled slowly into the red earth as they talked.
They were from Naboomspruit, a farming town farther north, said Fanie Uys, his face contorted in pain and sweating in the brutal midday sun. And they had come with several thousand other armed right-wing Afrikaners to lend support to the embattled black homeland regime of Bophuthatswana's tin-pot dictator, Lucas Mangope.
Beside him, face down in the dirt, Alwyn Walfaardt lifted his bearded head. No, no, he said, it wasn't a mistake to come, even though they had been shot in a fierce firefight with Mangope's own security forces.
"We came because the Afrikaner Volksfront asked us to come," he said weakly.
Suddenly, a young black man in a green police uniform walked up and without a word shot Uys in the chest with an assault rifle from two feet away. Uys jerked and slumped down, his eyes half open in death. Then the man turned and shot Walfaardt in the back of the head.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 29, 1994 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 4 Metro Desk 2 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
Death in Bophuthatswana--The caption of two Page A1 photographs in editions of March 12 showing members of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement before and after they were killed in Bophuthatswana wrongly described one of the men as begging for his life. The man was shown with his arms raised in surrender, but Times staff writer Bob Drogin, who was present, says the man did not beg. The erroneous information was provided along with the photograph by the Reuters news agency.
The cold-blooded execution, in front of a Times correspondent and more than a dozen other stunned reporters and photographers, was a grim example of the anarchy that seethed in the tense streets of this homeland capital in the wake of a right-wing invasion before dawn Friday to put down a popular uprising by anti-Mangope protesters.
Less than an hour later, Mangope capitulated. He announced in a statement released here that he would join South Africa's first all-race elections next month and agreed to reincorporate his nominally independent territory into South Africa after the April 26-28 voting, as the protesters had demanded.
South African President Frederik W. de Klerk subsequently announced in Pretoria that he was sending 1,500 armed troops to restore order here, with more soldiers standing by, if necessary. He said the deployment of troops would "stabilize the situation and ensure the unacceptable situation is immediately brought to an end."
Whether the army and the political compromise will end the bitter strikes, rioting and bloodshed that have turned this once-neat town into an ugly urban war zone remains to be seen.
Police and medical authorities confirmed at least 22 people were killed in clashes, but the final toll could be higher.
De Klerk met in a crisis session with Nelson Mandela, head of the African National Congress, and both leaders pleaded for peace.
No one is discounting revenge attacks or other violence.
By nightfall, armored personnel carriers with South African combat troops escorted convoys of Afrikaners to the border.
Thousands of other armed whites retreated from a Bophuthatswana air force base that they had occupied beside the main airport. An uneasy calm settled on the riot-torn city, punctuated by occasional gunfire.
The rout of the right-wingers, who had been urged to come by Mangope to save his regime, appeared a victory for the government and ANC.
Put simply, the new South Africa had survived its first violent challenge from the old.
Both the South African military and the Bophuthatswana security forces had remained loyal in the first major showdown with the extremists who have long threatened to launch a civil war rather than submit to democracy and black majority rule. The right wing clearly had miscalculated.
And Mangope, installed as president in 1977 by the white minority regime in Pretoria, had finally buckled to pressure.
Bophuthatswana, one of 10 homelands and territories created under apartheid to permanently separate blacks from whites in South Africa, will officially disappear in less than seven weeks.
The outcome was not always clear. The crisis began Monday when teachers joined other striking public servants here. Their initial demand was for pay raises and pensions, but the spontaneous protests quickly spread to a general anti-Mangope uprising that paralyzed the capital.
But on Thursday afternoon, many of the police who had wounded scores of protesters and filled the streets with choking tear gas suddenly defected, joining the demonstrators and demanding free elections.
It was unclear if Mangope's 5,000-member defense force would crush the revolt or move against him.
The chaos worsened early Friday when hundreds of cars and trucks filled with armed and angry members of the Afrikaner Volksfront, the alliance of white supremacists opposed to the elections, roared in to offer support.
South African officials and reporters estimated anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 white militants had arrived.
Mangope had welcomed their help, but specifically asked that the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, a vicious neo-Nazi faction, stay away. The three whites who were killed were all members of the pro-apartheid extremist group.