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Crowd Torches Van, Killing Black; Inquiry Hears Black Witness

April 11, 1985

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ ioting broke out Thursday in black townships in the eastern Cape Province, where police last month shot and killed 19 black marchers, a police spokesman said.

At a government inquiry into the March 21 shootings, a black man who was wounded in the encounter testified Thursday that police discussed whether to ″finish off″ the injured who were lying on the ground.

Nationwide, more than 300 blacks have been killed in nine months of unrest, according to groups opposed to the white-minority government.

A crowd set fire to a delivery van Thursday, killing the trapped black driver, in Kirkwood near the auto-making center of Uitenhage, and 39 people arrested at the site would be charged with murder, said the police spokesman in Pretoria, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Earlier, police said they found the charred body of a black man under burned tires. Police tear gas broke up a crowd of 300 blacks at the scene.

In other violence, gangs set fire to a black town councilman’s home and tried to torch a church at New Brighton. Fire bombs were thrown at a black policeman’s home near Port Elizabeth.

At the inquest in Uitenhage into the March 21 shootings, two police officers said riot police were issued rifles and shotguns, not tear gas and similar riot control weapons. One reason was that police headquarters said tear gas cannisters cost too much, the officers said.

Eric Tembani, 48, the first black to testify, said he suffered a scalp wound when police fired on about 3,000 black marchers in nearby Langa township who were on their way to a funeral for other riot victims. Tembani said he lay on the ground and pretended he was dead.

After the gunfire and the retreat of the crowd, Tembani said police moved among the dead and wounded and spread rocks among them. The government said after the shootings that marchers had surrounded police and pelted them with rocks and gasoline bombs, but police testimony indicated just one rock was thrown before police fired.

″Then I heard the police speaking a mixture of Zulu and Xhosa saying that these who were lying here should be finished off because they might make it plain later,″ Tembani said.

″They mentioned something about a leader. Then I heard a shot and I was hit under my right foot.″

He said police took him to a hospital, where he was left on a stretcher and later sneaked out. Most blacks treated at hospitals for riot injuries are arrested on charges of public violence.

A Uitenhage police warrant officer, Malan Meyer, testified that his superior, Maj. Gert Kuhn, had ordered him not to issue tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot to riot patrols. Meyer said Kuhn had given him a verbal order to issue only R-1 military rifles and shotguns beginning 11 days before the shootings at Langa.

Senior police officers have testified that the two armored vehicles that confronted the crowd as it moved toward a neighboring black township might have dispersed the marchers with tear gas.

Kuhn, testifying after Meyer, said his superior, Lt. Col. Frederick Pretorius, had told him to issue only live ammunition. Kuhn rejected as a ″blatant lie″ Pretorius’ earlier testimony that he had ordered that police should have all necessary weapons for riot control, including tear gas.

Subsequent testimony concerned a memo from police headquarters that ″tear smoke″ vehicles, which spray tear gas from a nozzle, should be used rather than more costly tear gas cannisters.

Pretorius, recalled to the stand Thursday, said Kuhn had misunderstood his order to mean no tear gas should be issued. He said he had given no such order.

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