Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu today helped quell an angry crowd and bring at least a temporary lull in the rioting that has rocked this black township for four straight days.
The government put the toll since Saturday at 19 dead, 16 of whom were shot by police and three others who were killed by rioters, including one black policeman. But local residents and clergymen said at least 27 blacks had died.
After painstaking negotiations, police allowed Tutu, last year's Nobel peace laureate, to accompany a small delegation of local black ministers to a soccer stadium in the sealed-off riot zone. There he addressed a mass meeting of 25,000 residents who demanded that security forces withdraw from the area and release the dozens of persons arrested since Saturday.
The crowd gradually dispersed after Tutu's pledge to deliver a list of grievances to police, according to witnesses. A police spokesman tonight described the situation as "extremely quiet," the first break in four days of continual violence that saw armed rioters shooting at police and local black township officials deemed "sellouts" to white-minority rule.
In Johannesburg, provincial prosecutors announced they were dropping charges against antiapartheid activist Winnie Mandela. The wife of imprisoned black nationalist Nelson Mandela had been charged with violating government banning orders prohibiting her from living in her home in Soweto, the country's largest black urban center.
With its action, the government has chosen to avoid a legal confrontation with Mrs. Mandela at a time when it is reportedly weighing whether to release her husband, who has been in prison for 24 years.
While police said 37 persons have been wounded in the four days of violence, Michael Beea, chairman of the Alexandra Civic Association and an organizer of today's peaceful rally, said his members had compiled a list of 100 wounded and that many more were still being added.
The day started with more violence when a mob of youths attacked an armored police vehicle with gasoline bombs. Three blacks were shot dead, according to police, and 11 under age 18 arrested.
But by 11 a.m. community organizers and clergymen had managed to gather a large segment of the township's 100,000 residents at the stadium in an attempt to defuse the violence.
The crowd sent a delegation of clergymen to meet Dutch Reformed Rev. Allan Boesak and Beyers Naude, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, two prominent antiapartheid activists who came to Alexandra at the request of local churchmen. Boesak and Naude said they had obtained permission from a police captain to enter the township, but when they walked toward an entrance near a local Catholic church, they were confronted by soldiers and police who pointed automatic rifles at them and turned them away.
Tutu arrived soon afterward and, following another round of talks with police, was allowed by a police brigadier to enter.
Journalists were prohibited from accompanying him, but witnesses said Tutu and the local clergy drove through streets littered with riot debris. When he got to the stadium, where the crowd had been waiting for several hours, Tutu made a fervent plea for peace.
"Please stop killing each other," Tutu told the crowd. "We don't want our children to be killed like flies."
After Tutu pleaded for the crowd to disperse in small groups, most left quietly, witnesses said. But a group of nearly 1,000 youths surrounded the bishop's car. For 30 minutes their leaders argued with him, saying that taking a list of grievances to the police was not enough and demanding that government officials come to the township.
Tutu finally made his way through the crowd and returned to the local police station. He emerged an hour later saying only that his meeting with police had been "useful."