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All The Schools Are Burnt In Duncan Village, Where Riots Killed 32

September 8, 1985

--- EDITOR’S NOTE - In the 19th-century, blacks and (AP) _ -

EDITOR’S NOTE - In the 19th-century, blacks and colonial whites clashed at what is now Duncan Village. Today, blacks and white soldiers still eye each other warily in a township where burned-out homes testify to the violence.


DUNCAN VILLAGE, South Africa (AP) - All nine schools are burned down. Children play in the charred shells of homes. Young, grim-faced white troops roll by in bullet-proof trucks with rifles pointed.

And at least 32 people have been shot to death since this black township exploded last month.

What is left of Duncan Village is a war zone again - 150 years after blacks and whites clashed here as the British Empire reached out to encompass another bit of what then was its Cape colony.

They called the deep-water port East London and the main road Oxford Street, and later named its black township after a governor-general, Sir Patrick Duncan. Fleet Street is off Oxford.

″For me it’s been a waste, but there’ll be more trouble. We’re very, very angry,″ says Mthobeli Jack, 17.

Wandering with two other youths along a dusty street between the rows of shanties and brick houses in the community where he was born, Jack didn’t have much before the trouble started. Now he seems to have little left to lose.

His school is closed after a political boycott which started a month ago. For three weeks, Jack says, he hasn’t slept at home.

″If you’re home and you’re my age the police will arrest you,″ is his explanation. ″If you’re on the streets, they’ll shoot at you.″

Last week, after a particularly bad night, Jack says he was walking to a shop with his brother, Loyiso, and some friends, and a police patrol came by and simply opened fire.

The youngsters scattered. Loyiso, 19, fell dead with five bullets in his back, Jack said.

Jack is not much younger than the white police who drive their armored vehicle in front of a reporter’s car at the village border, explaining, ″No whites are allowed in. It isn’t safe.″

A senior officer is summoned. After lengthy haggling he bows to the presence of five white priests, including two bishops, in a preceding car and reluctantly gives permission.

Two whites, among four in a car which apparently drove unaware into a funeral procession for riot victims, were killed by mourners near Duncan Village on Aug. 31 - one burned to death in the car, the other stabbed.

South Africa’s year of unrest erupted in Duncan Village Aug. 11 after the funeral of a prominent civil rights lawyer, Victoria Mxenge, in the nearby nominally independent tribal homeland of Ciskei. Her unsolved murder also set off a week of widespread rioting in Natal province where she lived.

In Duncan Village, with an officially estimated population of 50,000, buildings still smolder. Now the black arsonists angry with apartheid are setting fire to ruins - the same rubble they set ablaze the night before.

Duncan Village keeps cropping up in police reports. ″Arson .. . Rioting ... Two blacks fatally wounded.″

On Aug. 15, when international attention was focused on a policy speech by President P.W. Botha, a police report mentioned, without elaboration, 19 dead and 138 wounded in Duncan Village.

The reality is desolation. The smell lingers of smoke from charred walls that once supported schools, beer halls, the white-run local authority’s rent office. Burned cars litter streets.

Some houses are burned-out hulks, the onetime homes of black policemen or councilors. An old man digs a vegetable garden on a strip of waste land. Children with no schools to attend kick a soccer ball around nearby.

Duncan Village’s dozen or so black councilors, regarded by radicals as government collaborators for taking part in a state-backed local authority, have taken refuge two miles away in East London’s seafront hotels, which are all multiracial.

A crisis committee, led by churchmen from the adjoining district for mixed- race people, Pefferville, and liberal whites, dispatched a church van on Aug. 13 to pull out some wounded too afraid to go to hospital. Riot-injured are likely to be arrested on discharge from state hospitals.

A rioter’s rock sailed through a window of the van, which was marked with a cross and driven by the Rev. Graham Cornelius, a priest of mixed racial ancestry. But the vehicle kept going.

Then, say the church workers, police ripped off the cross. The committee responded by obtaining a temporary court injunction to stop security forces from harassing their members. The police have challenged the ruling.

At the crisis center, a hall adjoining Pefferville’s St. Xavier’s Roman Catholic Church, there is a make-do clinic where 150 wounded have been treated. The most serious 10 percent, including a six-year-old with a bullet wound in the neck, were sent to hospitals, says a white woman doctor, who took time off from her state-hospital job to come to St. Xavier’s.

″It’s been like a nightmare,″ says Amdromeda Mabalu, a black hospital matron whose Duncan Village home adjoins two which have been burned out by arsonists. ″Sometimes there’s shooting through the night.″

Says crisis committee member Janet Davies, of the longstanding Black Sash anti-apartheid organization formed by white women:

″The most common (security force) practice has been simply to drive down the streets firing randomly from their vehicles and simply shooting anyone who has the misfortune to be in their way.″

The white government two weeks ago dropped long-mooted - and long-resented -plans to bulldoze Duncan Village and remove its residents to neighboring Ciskei. It was a ″black spot″ which the government had planned to remove from ″white″ South Africa.

″We ought to have known it was smoldering,″ says Ted Walsh, publicity director of the white East London city council. ″Now they’re allowed to stay. I suppose it’s happened too late.″

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