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Apartheid Foe's Slaying Sparks Fear in S. Africa

November 07, 1994| From Associated Press

PRETORIA, South Africa — The killing of a white church leader branded a traitor to his race because he condemned apartheid raised fears Sunday that political violence will again flare in South Africa.

Police refused to speculate on why Johan Heyns, former head of the Dutch Reformed Church, was killed Saturday night by a single shot to the head. But others were convinced that Heyns was killed by extremists who opposed the direction in which he had taken his church.

President Nelson Mandela on Sunday mourned Heyns as a "soldier of peace."

"His untimely death is a loss to the South African nation as a whole, black and white," Mandela said.

The 66-year-old Heyns, head of the church from 1986 to 1990, had been a controversial figure for his anti-apartheid stances. His Dutch Reformed Church is the church of most Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch settlers, and until the 1980s gave theological justification for the Afrikaner-led state's policies of racial discrimination.

"Everything points to the fact that it was a political assassination," said Beyers Naude, a prominent theologian who was defrocked by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1963 for his outspoken opposition to apartheid. Naude was welcomed back into the church only this year.

Heyns died instantly when an attacker using a large-caliber rifle shot him through a window of his home in a bougainvillea-shaded neighborhood of Pretoria.

Heyns had been playing cards with his wife and grandchildren, police said. The gunshot came from about six yards away. No one else was injured.

"It was well planned, and it was professionally done. The person must have known exactly where to go and how to do it," Naude said.

Racial and political violence has decreased since the nation's first all-race election in April, and Mandela, South Africa's first black president, has called for reconciliation. Naude said Heyns' death was a warning "the struggle is not over."

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