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S. Africans say democracy threatened by government-backed violence.

NEW YORK -- Almost three years after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, South Africa may be headed away from, not toward, democratic elections.

That is the growing fear among many South Africans and outside observers deeply disturbed by a pattern of government complicity in the communal violence now wracking black townships in that resource-rich, drought-stricken southern African nation.

And "contrary to media reports, apartheid is alive and well in South Africa," said an American Friends Service Committee delegation that visited South Africa last month to study the escalating violence there.

Indeed, South Africans "still need a process that will take us out of apartheid," Africa National Congress activist Cheryl Carolus told anti-apartheid activists at a New York conference in support of the ANC in mid-November.

But "South African government involvement in counterdemocratic forces" responsible for the violence is part of a strategy to deny blacks majority rule and to delay the end of apartheid, she said.

South Africans are alarmed at the steady rise in armed attacks on supporters of two rival black political movements -- Mandela's broad-based ANC and the government-backed tribal Inkatha movement, said Edgar Lockwood, a lawyer and member of the AFSC delegation. Parts of black townships have been turned into "a little Beirut," he told NCR.

The surface randomness of such violence, he emphasized, reflects government security forces' efforts to orchestrate a "self-perpetuating little war" that can be portrayed as black-on-black violence that whites don't participate in."

Newspapers, foreign observers -- from the United Nations, the British Commonwealth and the European Community -- and even government investigative commissions have detailed a repeated pattern of killings that occur "while constables stand nearby," said Lockwood.

Such violence rivals that of Yugoslavia, he said. "One South African paper reported an average of 52 people were killed in Johannesburg each day," he said. "That means that in 10 days, that city sees the same number of people killed that Washington, D.C., does in a year."

The white-dominated government's complicity in the violence is revealed by its failure -- indeed its refusal -- to effectively stop the attacks or bring perpetrators to justice, he said. "Imagine how it would act if whites were being attacked or killed," he said. "They wouldn't tolerate it for a minute."

The system of so-called independent tribal-based homelands also has generated violence in South Africa, said the Reverend Lulama Ntshingwa, an Anglican priest from the homeland of Ciskei. But the government cannot deny its role in this violence, because "South African security forces are the people manning the roadblocks," he said. "They are in control. They pay the budget of these so-called homelands. They even head the ministries."

One "homeland" leader, he said, recently urged the government to end the legal fiction of homeland independence. Ending the system, Ntshingwa said, would help blacks, economically and politically. "There is so much wasteful duplication of government structures. We don't know how many ministers of defense we have in the entire country," be said.

Lockwood said that most troubling was the tendency by all sides to use force excessively. "There is such a simmering anger over the violence that people are dehumanized," he said. "They are losing any sense of the humanity of the people they kill. Church people told me, |We are worried that our children are becoming monsters.'

"And the fact that people cannot go to the police or the courts for redress for these attacks directly undermines negotiations, putting tremendous pressure on the ANC to end talks. At one rally, people sang, |While you are talking, they are killing us.'"

Many think the white-ruled government will cite such violence as the pretext for attempting to postpone democratic elections. But if democratic elections are not held within 12 to 18 months, there "will be total chaos," warned Lockwood.

In Angola and Mozambique, the United States and South Africa "have perfected the technique of making minority groups into armed forces demanding a significant role in negotiations," said Carolus. She charged that violence now was being similarly orchestrated to move Inkatha "into a position of compelling power-sharing" in a future South African government. "Will they force us into power-sharing," she asked, "or allow us to form a democratically, elected government on our own term?"

The mandate of U.N. observers needs to be strengthened so they are able "not only to observe but also to stop violence if necessary," said Ntshingwa. "It makes no sense to watch people being killed in their presence and only report on it."

And Americans should "try to influence the incoming Clinton administration to pressure South Africa to stop the violence," he urged.
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Author:Collins, Carole
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 4, 1992
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