Security Forces Fire on Farmers Trying to Destroy Squatters’ Camp
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ A small army of white farmers broke through a blockade Saturday and tried to flatten a black squatter camp with trucks, and two were wounded when security forces fired, police said.
The farmers said they were fired upon without warning. Police accused them of assaulting the black settlers.
In a separate incident, 17 blacks were injured when white attackers rampaged through a nearby black township, police said. Farmers denied involvement in that incident.
Reports of the number of injuries and the number of farmers involved varied, but all sides agreed the whites wanted to get rid of about 300 blacks who had set up camp on land they lost under apartheid.
The incident underscored the anger many conservative whites have toward President F.W. de Klerk’s plans to abolish apartheid laws that have reserved most land for the white minority. Many whites are now fearful they will have to give the land back to blacks, who were forced to leave it.
The confrontation began shortly after midnight Friday near Ventersdorp, a conservative farming town 80 miles west of Johannesburg.
Late Saturday afternoon, Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok told reporters in Ventersdorp that farmers had agreed to leave the squatters alone and let the courts decide if they should be evicted.
Police Maj. Ray Harrald said police and soldiers were deployed to Ventersdorp after noticing a large contingent of vehicles moving toward the squatter camp late Friday.
″A roadblock was set up and the group ... took up a position opposite the security force contingent and displayed a hostile attitude,″ Harrald said.
The farmers broke through the blockade early Saturday and began mowing down shacks with their trucks, and two farmers were shot by police firing rifles and tear gas, Harrald said. He said three farmers were arrested and four shacks were damaged.
Harrald also said residents of the nearby black township of Tshing told police that whites armed with knives and sticks had rampaged in the township and injured 17 people. Residents said the attackers struck about 5 a.m. and wore knitted head coverings called balaclavas.
Hundreds of farmers gathered on a farm Saturday afternoon and spoke to reporters. Some wore balaclavas.
The South African Press Association initially said 500 farmers in 150 trucks were involved in the advance on the squatter camp.
The farmers said they wanted to peacefully remove the squatters and were shot at as they drove their trucks toward the camp. A leader of the group, Wilco Beukes, said they farmers never entered the camp or had contact with squatters.
Harrald said local police had been handling the squatter situation and a court hearing was scheduled later this month.
Police and soldiers surrounded the squatter camp Saturday evening. The farmers dispersed after Vlok flew into the town and talked with their leaders. The farmers denied being members of a political group, but the right-wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement has said it would remove the squatters if the government did not.
The squatters were among millions of blacks, Indians and people of mixed- race who lost their land during decades of forced removals to enforce apartheid laws. De Klerk has promised to repeal remaining apartheid laws but has tried to satisfy farmers by saying no one will be forced to give up land.
However, the African National Congress supports land reform that would give the state power to seize property to compensate those who were displaced under apartheid.