Official Says Initial Police Reports On Shootings Was In Error
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ The national police commissioner said Wednesday that initial police reports on the killings of 19 blacks during a confrontation in eastern Capt Province were in error.
Gen. Johan Coetzee made the statement at an inquiry in the industrial center of Uitenhage on the March 21 shootings in nearby Langa township.
Police testimony at the two-week-old hearing has differed from Law and Order Minister Louis le Grange’s statement to Parliament on the day of the killings. He said police opened fire after a crowd ignored a warning to disperse, surrounded a police unit and attacked the officers with stones, sticks and gasoline bombs.
The patrol commander, Lt. John William Fouche, testified he gave the order to open fire after one woman threw one stone, and he said no gasoline bombs were thrown. Other policemen said a number of stones were thrown, but the two armored police vehicles could have withdrawn rather than confront the marchers.
Fouche also said his men had only automatic rifles, buckshot and pistols because less lethal ammunition was not being issued.
Coetzee told Cape Province Supreme Court Judge Donald Kannemeyer that le Grange’s office had received numerous phone calls and messages with details on the incident immediately after it happened, and some were contradictory.
″But that was what we could do in the time limit. The blame lies with the police,″ he said.
A crowd of some 3,000 marchers had been blocked by by police in Langa, a black township outside Uitenhage, as they were going to a funeral for other riot victims in Kwanobuhle township.
Black witnesses, who have not yet testified before Kannemeyer, have been quoted by newspapers as saying police gave no warnings to disperse and the shooting was unprovoked.
The killings led to riots in many black township in Capt Province that claimed 21 more lives, inluding several township councilors and other blacks considered by the rioters as collaborators with the white-minority government.
Coetzee challenged the claim by Fouche and some other officers that tear gas and rubber bullets were not issued to riot police before the shootings.
″It is the duty of the officer in charge of a contingent to ensure that his men are equipped with the best equipment to fulfill their task,″ he said.
In an affidavit submitted to the inquiry, Coetzee said that since August 1984, ″a well-orchestrated political action program″ initiated by the outlawed African National Congress ″was set in motion with the intention of making South Africa ungovernable.″
He claimed the program is supported by the United Democratic Front, a multiracial coalition opposed to South Africa’s apartheid policies.
″The main aim of the program was the politicization and radicalization of the black masses, with the intention of an eventual restructuring of South Africa socially, politically and economically, on lines other than constitutional,″ Coetzee’s statement said.
In another development, Transvaal Attorney General Don Brunette said in Johannesburg that an Anglican priest detained without charge since October will appear with more than a dozen other defendants on high treason charges in two to three weeks.
The black priest, the Rev. Geoffrey Moselane, was a community leader in Sharpeville, where rioting broke out in September. Continued violence around the country since then has left about 300 blacks dead, according to the opposition Progressive Federal Party.