Government Begins Release of Prisoners
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ The government began releasing scores of political prisoners and extremists today, including a notorious white supremacist who gunned down seven blacks in a sidewalk shooting spree.
The first prisoners were released overnight: Seven African National Congress members walked out of East London prison on the southeast coast to the cheers of supporters. The ANC said up to 150 activists would be released today, with some 300 prisoners to be released by Nov. 15.
″I’m a well-disciplined ANC member who fought the apartheid regime,″ said Mtheleleli Mncube, a member of the opposition group’s military wing who had been sentenced to death for 11 killings.
″I have no regrets for what I did in good faith,″ he said after walking out of Pretoria Central Prison.
Government leaders, meanwhile, were trying to mend ties with the country’s second most powerful black leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The head of the Zulu- dominated Inkatha Freedom Party pulled out of political negotiations to protest a weekend reconciliation meeting between President F.W. de Klerk and ANC chief Nelson Mandela.
Buthelezi’s boycott threatened to deepen the political crisis and unleash new violence. De Klerk and Mandela are struggling to revive multiparty negotiations on ending apartheid and stem violence that threatens South Africa’s political and economic stability.
Much of the violence involves ANC and Inkatha supporters engaged in a bloody power struggle.
Today’s releases included two men sentenced to death for murder. Barend Strydom, of the extreme right-wing White Wolves, went on a shooting spree in downtown Pretoria in 1988, killing six blacks and an Indian. He slipped out by a side door as journalists and right-wing white extremists waited at the main entrance of Pretoria Central Prison.
Also released was ANC activist Robert McBride, who parked a car bomb at a popular Durban bar in 1986, killing three white women and injuring 69 people. Both men were sentenced to death, but the sentences were later changed to life imprisonment.
McBride, who was greeted by about 100 cheering ANC supporters as he left prison, was attacked and wounded by white prisoners Sunday in an apparent assassination attempt, police said. The ANC claims a prison warder was involved in the attack on McBride, who was wounded with a pair of scissors.
″We will protect you,″ ANC supporters chanted as McBride emerged from Westville Prison in Durban.
De Klerk and Mandela restored relations between the government and the ANC at a summit Saturday after a three-month deadlock, and said they were making progress toward resuming full-scale negotiations on power-sharing.
The two sides remain divided on key issues such as an amnesty for security forces members and the future of the country’s nominally independent black homelands.
As part of Saturday’s agreement, the white minority government is to free militants convicted of crimes committed for political reasons before October 1990. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released under earlier agreements during the past two years.
The government until recently opposed the new releases, saying the militants did not qualify as political prisoners because they committed violent crimes.
Strydom was to be released because he claimed he killed for political reasons - out of opposition to the prospect of black rule in South Africa. Some extreme right-wing groups hailed him as a hero.
The government, which generally has taken a tough stance against right-wing violence, had said it opposed releasing Strydom. But the white authorities ultimately decided to wipe the slate clean and free virtually all prisoners with links to political groups.
Buthelezi broke off talks with the government on Sunday, saying in an angry speech at an Inkatha rally that he and his followers had not been consulted and therefore would not abide by agreements reached between de Klerk and Mandela.
″My view is that negotiation for the future constitution for South Africa cannot go ahead,″ Buthelezi told some 10,000 cheering supporters in KwaMashu, a black township outside Durban.
″I will withdraw ... from further discussions with the government until I have had the opportunity to consult widely on the way forward,″ he added.
De Klerk and Mandela both said Buthelezi misinterpreted the nature of Saturday’s meeting and would be welcome at the negotiating table.
″Nothing can be resolved if we don’t involve other political players,″ Mandela said on state television.
″I’m in favor of multiparty negotiations,″ said de Klerk, who also appeared on government TV. But he added, ″We won’t have peace until Mr. Mandela and Dr. Buthelezi make their peace. To a great extent it is ANC supporters and Inkatha supporters killing each other.″