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SAfrica Baby Shooting Angers Blacks

April 17, 1998

BENONI, South Africa (AP) _ While black demonstrators shouted for justice outside a rural courthouse, a white farmer accused of shooting and killing a black infant withdrew his bail request Friday, preferring the safety of jail in a case that has stoked racial anger in South Africa.

Miles away, Violet Dlamini sat disconsolately in a cinderblock shack, two candles burning in memory of her dead 6-month-old daughter, Angelina.

``I feel what has happened to me should not happen to anyone, black or white,″ said Mrs. Dlamini, her face taut with grief.

Angelina’s 11-year-old cousin, Francina Dlamini, had been carrying Angelina, in a blanket wrapped snugly against her back, across a grassy field on April 11. A white man who owned the land allegedly shouted at them to stop, then opened fire.

One bullet went through the baby’s head and plowed into Francina’s back. An 11-year-old boy walking with them was not harmed.

Nicholas Steyn, 42, reportedly told authorities he shot in the children’s direction because they were trespassing, a scant hundred yards from the shack where the baby lived.

Many blacks say such killings by whites in rural areas were not uncommon in the apartheid era, and those killers routinely went unpunished. Apartheid ended with the nation’s first all-race elections in 1994.

The shooting near Benoni, 25 miles east of Johannesburg, has become explosive due to the unprecedented attention it has received from President Nelson Mandela and other top leaders, the callousness of the shooting and the fact that police didn’t bother to arrest Steyn for two days.

``Racism in South Africa has been entrenched for more than 300 years,″ Mandela said when he visited the girls’ parents Tuesday. ``We can’t expect it to be eliminated in four years.″

The case has been debated on several radio talk shows and has made front-page banner headlines.

``Obviously (Steyn) has good reasons for believing that two children and a 6-month-old baby were a serious threat, otherwise he wouldn’t have shot at them. Would he?″ white columnist Carol Lazar wrote sarcastically in The Star, a Johannesburg daily.

On Tuesday, demonstrators called for vengeance during a court appearance for Steyn, saying they wanted to kill him.

Police tried to head off trouble by stringing razor wire alongside the building. By Friday, armored riot vehicles and phalanxes of riot police blocked entryways. Anyone entering was frisked.

About 50 demonstrators in an open area in the courthouse spontaneously made up song verses Friday.

``Why are they killing us like this?″ they sang in the Zulu language. ``Steyn is killing the children.″ Then, after police shoved them back, they sang the national anthem.

Outside, 350 other demonstrators faced off against riot police.

In the courtroom, Steyn withdrew his request for bail. A police spokesman, Superintendent Eugene Opperman, said Steyn made the move for his own safety.

One protester was particularly incensed that police had let Steyn go on the day of the shooting and had not arrested him until Monday.

``If the SPCA lays a charge against you for shooting a dog, they will arrest you,″ said demonstrator Mary Botes. ``Here, a man shot a baby and they let him walk away for the weekend.″

Police defended the move by saying they knew where he lived and did not expect him to flee.

After the court hearing, Francina’s parents went to visit her at the hospital. Her father, Richard, sat next to her bed, leaned over and looked into her big brown eyes. He smiled. Her face lit up as she returned the smile. But few words were said.

``We have to be careful,″ her mother, Lucy, said afterward. ``I asked Francina the other day how she feels, and she began to cry. It just brought back the memory.″

Hospital workers are trying to keep Francina occupied. A psychiatrist will speak with the family next week before her release.

``We try to organize books, crayons, things like that so she doesn’t think about things, to keep her mind off what happened,″ said nurse Eunice Thipe. ``But this is long-term trauma. She will never forget this thing.″

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