Army Begins Projects for Blacks in Township With PM-South Africa, Bjt
TEMBISA, South Africa (AP) _ The army, often vilified for joining police on riot patrols, has set out to win black hearts and minds in this township where anti-apartheid rioting began more than a year ago.
About 20 soldiers from an engineering corps began grading a dusty field in Tembisa on Friday, clearing sites for a soccer stadium, two netball fields and two volleyball courts.
The army invited reporters to see the three-week project get under way in the black township of 300,000 people 20 miles north of Johannesburg.
The unit will help build 25 soccer, netball and volleyball fields, improve dirt roads and lay out beautification projects including grass, trees and shrubbery in the barren township.
The army has long emphasized its hearts-and-minds campaign of upgrading rural villages in neighboring South-West Africa, to draw support away from guerrillas fighting to end South African rule. The Tembisa project is the first army project in a South African township.
Capt. Hennie Groenewald, the officer in charge, said more such ventures are planned. ″This is a project to get certain problem points worked out. It’s normal that the Army helps with certain problems, it’s human aid,″ he said.
Rose Thulare, head of the Tembisa council management committee, cut the plastic ribbon on the vacant field, next to a school with all its windows smashed by rioters, as the army grader began moving earth.
″It’s a historic day,″ she said. ″We would like to express our heartiest thanks to the government, to the army, for their explicit and symbolic action they are taking in our town here.″
She dismissed suggestions that Tembisa residents might scorn the army’s help after more than a year of violence.
″The army in Tembisa has behaved in such a way that the relationship between the army and the community has been very healthy and sound,″ she said. ″So now they will see that the army is not only protecting them, but also interested in their well-being.″
In the final days of August last year, the first rumblings of unrest occurred in Tembisa, then in other black townships of the industrial belt east of Johannesburg. On Sept. 3, rioting exploded in townships south of Johannesburg.
Anti-apartheid unrest has continued daily since then, leaving well over 700 dead by unofficial count.
Like others across the country, members of Tembisa’s black town council have been attacked and threatened, perceived by militant apartheid foes as collaborators with the white government.
Six of 17 members have quit, and Mrs. Thulare’s home is guarded constantly by armed police and soldiers. The council was elected on a 20-percent turnout after a boycott by apartheid foes.
The few residents who stood around the prospective soccer stadium as the army grader bit into the soil also said they approved of the army presence.
″It’s only safe when they’re here,″ said Peter Zwane, 46, who lost his job at a council-owned beer hall when rioters burned it down. ″If they’re not here, they (the youths) burn our shops and houses. When the Army is here, they are afraid to cause trouble.″
One youth was less charitable, saying the army beat up those who stayed out past the 10 p.m. To 4 a.m. curfew. But he conceded Tembisa was relatively quiet under the heavy army and police presence.