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Five Whites Killed in Hotel Attack

May 2, 1993

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Five whites were killed when black attackers fired automatic weapons and tossed a grenade into a hotel bar Saturday night in the southern coastal town of East London, police said.

Police said six whites and one black worker were wounded in the attack at the Highgate Hotel shortly after 10 p.m.

No one claimed responsibility, but the Pan Africanist Congress has carried out several attacks against whites in the region in recent months.

″There was blood and glass and bodies lying everywhere,″ police Lt. Col. Christo Louw said in a telephone interview from the scene. ″It’s just bloody chaos.″

The killings Saturday came just as the country seemed to be settling down from the April 10 assassination of Chris Hani, a popular black leader of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

The slaying touched off protests and riots by blacks in several cities, but black and white leaders appealed for calm and the backlash was not as severe as some predicted.

Witnesses on Saturday said three black men in masks entered the hotel and headed for its two bars and pool room. They tossed tear gas in one bar, a hand grenade in the pool room and opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles, according to Lt. Col. Christo Louw.

Five white men were killed, he said.

Until late last year, political attacks against white civilians were extremely rare. Most political violence in South Africa involved clashes between black factions and was largely restricted to black townships far removed from the white suburbs.

But at least 11 whites have been killed in a series of attacks in the last six months, most of them around East London and Johannesburg.

Right-wing whites have vowed to retaliate when whites are attacked.

The government and police have blamed the PAC, a small, radical group.

The PAC usually doesn’t claim responsibility for specific attacks. But the group says it is continuing to wage war against the government, though it also is participating in black-white talks to end apartheid.

The most recent round of talks was Friday and the PAC was among 26 groups participating.

While political violence has not derailed the talks, it has heightened tensions and created new problems.

An increasing number of whites feel President F.W. de Klerk is losing control of the country and can no longer guarantee the safety of the 5 million whites.

Many blacks, meanwhile, feel the government and police are neither able nor willing to stop the fighting that has claimed more than 9,000 black lives in the past three years.

A 4-year-old recession and the slow pace of the political negotiations also have contributed to a feeling of desperation among many South Africans of all races.

De Klerk says he wants to have the country’s first all-race election early next years. But unless black and white groups can reach agreements soon, that target may have to be pushed back.

The shootings Saturday came on the eve of the funeral for former ANC President Oliver Tambo. Tens of thousands of blacks are expected to gather at a soccer stadium in the Soweto township outside Johannesburg.

Tambo died April 24 of a stroke. After the stadium service, much of the crowd is expected to travel to the cemetery, passing near several white neighborhoods.

Update hourly