At least seven blacks were shot to death by South African police early this morning, bringing to at least 11 the number killed since rioting broke out last weekend in the black townships east of Johannesburg.
According to a police statement, five men were killed when police opened fire as a crowd attacked a black policeman's home with gasoline bombs and rocks in Kwa Thema. It said that two others died in a similar incident elsewhere in the township, which is about 30 miles from here, and that two others had been wounded and hospitalized.
Although police reports put today's death toll at seven, persons who said they were witnesses told foreign journalists and news agencies that at least a dozen persons died in the latest outbreak of violence in the black communities in the area known as the East Rand.
Those killed today join the list of at least 400 persons, all but two of them black, who have been killed in political violence in this white-minority-ruled nation during the past 10 months.
The witnesses who spoke to journalists said the seven were killed early this morning outside a movie theater, where youths had gathered for an all-night vigil to mourn four other black youths killed in hand-grenade explosions two weeks ago. They said the youths had gathered outside the Gugulethu Theater and fled inside when confronted by police, who then fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the building to force the crowd outside, where the seven were gunned down. Others said an eighth youth was killed in a separate incident.
The Johannesburg Star, the biggest selling daily in South Africa, quoted residents as saying that at least six of the seven killed early this morning were gunned down at the theater. It reported that the theater's walls and doors were pockmarked with bullet holes and its floors were covered with puddles of blood, empty tear-gas canisters and rubber bullets.
Residents of the township told journalists that three more youths were killed during the day, including a 10-year-old boy who was in a mob gathered outside a black township official's house. There was no official confirmation of these deaths, nor of reports of two more deaths today in neighboring Duduza township.
Anglican Bishop Simeon Nkoane, a resident of Kwa Thema, told The Associated Press: "The authorities just seem to go on the rampage." He said police fired tear gas and guns throughout the night before the funeral, and added, "They have been shooting without aim, to intimidate and frighten people . . . . This is maddening."
Incidents of rioting continued throughout the day, according to residents of the township. Thousands gathered to bury the four hand-grenade victims. Residents told reporters small groups of rioters burned cars and beat persons suspected of working for the government.
Police said they also arrested 36 youths who were part of a crowd that had stoned houses. One large mob was dispersed by rubber bullets and tear gas after it had converged on the township's police station shortly after midnight.
The deaths followed a weekend of unrest in neighboring Duduza, where at least four persons were killed during three days of rioting that included allegations by witnesses and local reporters that police in hooded masks had shot several persons in cold blood, rounded up youths and assaulted prisoners.
The City Press newspaper here reported Sunday that police had commandeered a community hall and converted it with barbed wire into a prison in which at least 50 black youths were held and beaten over the weekend.
The operation led the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church to issue a strong condemnation of the police, the Army and "parapolice groups" for their "acts of violence" in Duduza and other townships.
The unopposed motion, seconded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, called for a judicial inquiry into recent security activities and called upon security officials "to refrain from any action which will inflame matters further."
Police officials, who had maintained silence on the weekend, confirmed yesterday that four persons had been killed in Duduza but denied the accusations of brutality. Press reports said at least five had been killed.
"Allegations that policemen disguise themselves, shoot people in cold blood and abduct others, are bereft of all truth," said Gen. P.J. Coetzee, commissioner of police, in a statement from Pretoria, the South African capital. "People making such allegations must come forward with their facts."
The Kwa Thema violence erupted on the day residents had set for the funeral of four black youths who died two weeks ago in hand-grenade and bomb explosions. Police said the youths were among seven whose Soviet-made explosives blew up in their hands as they attempted to carry out assaults on the homes of black policemen in Kwa Thema and Duduza. Government sources indicated that the youths had been recruited by the African National Congress, the outlawed antigovernment guerrilla movement.
But ANC officials at the movement's headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, said police agents posing as guerrillas had recruited the youths and supplied them with defective grenades designed to explode instantly when their pins were pulled. The government denied the ANC version.
The bodies of the three other young men are scheduled to be buried Wednesday, along with a fourth man killed in a separate incident, at a funeral in Duduza.
Kwa Thema and Duduza have been the scene of intermittent unrest in recent months and violence directed at black police and township officials accused of "collaborating" with white rule.
The latest unrest follows a congress two weeks ago of ANC leaders in Zambia, the movement's first major consultative conference in 16 years. There, the organization pledged to intensify violence inside South Africa. ANC military officials in recent months have called for more attacks on "enemy personnel" and for making black townships "ungovernable" and "no-go areas" for the police.