The judge investigating the Uitenhage shootings, in which 20 black persons attending a funeral died in a hail of police gunfire March 21, has found no one responsible for what happened.
The judge's findings, reported to Parliament here today, criticized the police and accused the minister of law and order, Louis le Grange, of giving a misleading initial account of what happened.
But the report absolved the commander of the police detachment who gave the order to shoot, calling his decision "understandable."
Judge Donald D. Kannemeyer also found that "no sinister inference" could be drawn from the inaccuracies in Le Grange's initial statement to Parliament, which the judge attributed to confusion, not a cover-up conspiracy.
The report was attacked by the parliamentary opposition. Peter Gastrow, a liberal Progressive Federal Party member, called it "a tame report."
"I wouldn't call it a whitewash," Gastrow said. "There are some quite damning indictments of the police, of their communications, their equipment, their discipline and their attitude generally.
"But the fact that no one has been identified as carrying responsibility for what happened is surprising." Gastrow said blacks would find exoneration of the officer who ordered the shooting "disappointing, to put it mildly."
Le Grange announced that a board of inquiry would study some of Judge Kannemeyer's criticisms, but he expressed satisfaction with the report and reaffirmed his determination to have the police maintain law and order "with all the means at their disposal."
Kannemeyer rejected police suggestions that the crowd, en route to the funerals of victims of South Africa's continuing racial unrest, was marching on Uitenhage intending to kill its white inhabitants; he found also that the marchers were not heavily armed with stones, knives and gasoline bombs, as police suggested.
Kannemeyer also rejected a police assertion that the crowd had attacked them with stones, saying this had been "fabricated in order to justify the shooting."
". . . Had the holding of the funerals not been unnecessarily prohibited on doubtful grounds, there can be little doubt that the procession would have passed through Uitenhage without incident," the judge said.
However, he accepted as true reports that some marchers were singing a song in the Xhosa language about killing whites, and that an interpreter had reported this to the commander of the police detachment, Lt. John Fouche. This, the judge concluded, had confronted Fouche with an "awesome decision," because he had not been issued tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot but only lethal ammunition.
Kannemeyer strongly criticized the failure to equip antiriot patrols in the Uitenhage area with nonlethal ammunition.
He rejected suggestions that this was the result of a misunderstanding, saying: "One can only conclude that it was the result of a policy deliberately adopted."
He also said he found it "disquieting" that 35 of the 47 members of the crowd who were killed and injured had been shot from the back. Although this indicated that most of the shots were fired after the crowd had started running away, the judge said that account also should be taken of the "reaction factor" which would have caused a delay between the commander's order to cease firing and the responses of his men.
One finding which is being criticized relates to conflicting evidence about whether the police fired a warning shot before opening up on the crowd with their lethal ammunition.
Members of the crowd have said the police opened fire without warning, and that a teen-age boy on a bicycle who was riding out front of the funeral procession was hit by the first shot.