South Africa announced today that it had dropped plans to uproot three black townships bordering Cape Town, but only offered to talk with leaders of the Crossroads settlement, where 18 persons were killed and 234 injured this week in violent rioting set off by the threat of forced removals.
The mood in this shantytown of 50,000 people remained tense today as the government minister in charge of black affairs, Gerrit N. Viljoen, announced that he would meet with community leaders "to seek their cooperation for a program of urban renewal."
Although Viljoen's tone was conciliatory and he assured the people of Crossroads that he will not remove them suddenly or by force, he insisted that they are "illegal squatters" and must go to a new planned township eight miles farther from Cape Town. But they have insisted that they will not move voluntarily, and Viljoen has hedged when questioned about what he will do if he cannot persuade them to go.
As the shantytown smoldered in its state of suspended conflict today, there was unrest in 10 other black ghettos around the country.
In one of them, near a wine-producing town called Paarl 40 miles east of Cape Town, black residents threatened with removal to the same place as the Crossroads community held an all-night meeting at which they decided to "demolish" any government-owned vehicle that entered their township.
One death was reported, in a black area near Kroonstad in the Orange Free State, where police said they fired rubber bullets at crowds after a funeral.
Crossroads today had the appearance of a town that has been through a battle.
Its streets and alleys were littered with the debris of the bloody confrontation Monday and Tuesday. Boulders and shards of broken glass lay everywhere, and the burned-out hulks of automobiles blocked the roadways.
Tall eucalyptus trees were felled across the main entrance road, and there were remains of other barricades built of sheet metal, concrete blocks and burning tires.
Knots of people gathered between the shanties, built of corrugated iron strips, slabs of timber, bits of cardboard and plastic sheeting. A group of children with slingshots and pieces of wood roughly shaped into guns played "cops and residents" around the barricades.
The Empilisweni clinic, started by medical students and financed by a church group with some assistance from foreign embassies, including the United States, has been a place of refuge during this week of violence in Crossroads.
Its volunteer white doctors and nurses never stopped coming to the clinic, despite the explosion of racial anger in the settlement. They walked around police cordons and made their way through the tangle of alleys dressed in white medical coats that enabled the residents to recognize them as friends.
The clinic was crowded again today, although the shooting had stopped. Injured residents, their shotgun wounds turning septic, lined up for treatment. In a square outside the clinic a crowd of women, some weeping, sang hymns and fell on their knees in a prayer for the dead.
The police kept out of sight today, waiting for the talks between Viljoen and the community leaders to begin. One of the doctors at the clinic said that was why the settlement was relatively peaceful. "Our major concern is that the police stay out," he said. "If they come back in there will be trouble again."
Edith Ndzungwe, 48, vice chairwoman of the Crossroads Mothers' Committee, was at the clinic helping families trace missing relatives by checking who had been treated.
She spoke of the residents' determination not to leave Crossroads. They had built the shantytown for themselves because the government had stopped providing housing for blacks in Cape Town, she explained, vowing that "If they want to move us to Khayelitsha the new settlement earmarked for them they will have to kill us all and then move our dead bodies."
Unlike Crossroads, she said, they would have to pay rent in Khayelitsha and pay higher fares to work in Cape Town.
"We are poor people," she said. "We cannot pay. We will not go."
Ndzungwe was unimpressed by Viljoen's assurance that the community would not be removed forcibly. "The government has made promises before, and it has broken them all," she said. "We will never trust any of them anymore now."
This mistrust seems to have been at the root of the violent outbreak. Last Friday, Viljoen announced that additional staff and transport were being provided to speed up preparations for the removal of the Crossroads residents to Khayelitsha, which he described as a government priority.
"We took this to mean that we were about to be moved," she said. "That night we held a meeting and decided to resist the removal."
It was decided that everyone should stay home from work Monday, when the removal trucks were expected. Groups of young people were assigned to build barricades to keep the trucks from entering.
As they manned these barricades and waited for the trucks, the police arrived instead to disperse what they regarded as a lawless mob.
"The police began shooting at the people, trying to drive them away so that they could clear the road," Ndzungwe said.
A photographer who watched the two-day battle from a eucalyptus tree agreed.
"The police would open fire with tear-gas launchers, rubber-bullet guns and shotguns to drive the people back. Then they would tear down a barricade," the photographer said. "After that they would move on to the next barricade, and the people would simply return and put up the first barricade again.
"This went on over and over again," he added. "It looked like a game. But then I came down here to the clinic and saw all the people who had been killed and wounded and realized it wasn't a game."
"Most of the wounds were in the back," said Diana Hewitson, one of the doctors at the clinic. "They were shot while running away."
The wounds were mainly from shotgun pellets, but the rubber bullets caused some serious internal injuries, Hewitson added. Several persons were hit in the eyes with the pellets, and some suffered deep wounds and severe lacerations that puzzled the doctors.
Meanwhile, in Durban today, seven leaders of the country's major black political organization, the United Democratic Front, arrested Tuesday in an apparent attempt to contain the spreading unrest, were formally charged with high treason. They joined eight other democratic front leaders who were arrested on treason charges in December. All will appear March 29 for what is likely to be a major show trial.