Seven suspected black guerrillas, killed in a shootout with police nearly two weeks ago, were buried here today amid growing questions about who they were and how they died.
The men were interred following an emotional ceremony in a half-empty, wind-swept stadium in this segregated township outside Cape Town at which mourners defied a magistrate's ban on political speeches, banners and pamphlets. Several speakers accused police of murdering the men in cold blood.
The funeral, the first major political event since President Pieter W. Botha lifted South Africa's seven-month-old state of emergency eight days ago, followed a night of violence outside Johannesburg in which six blacks were killed, four by police and two by other blacks.
The seven were shot to death on March 3, in what officials described as a carefully planned police operation launched after authorities were tipped off that heavily armed men were preparing an attack on a police bus. Police said they confronted the men and opened fire after they were attacked. They described the men as members of the African National Congress, the outlawed black resistance movement.
But witnesses and relatives immediately disputed the police version. Reporters for the daily Cape Times have obtained statements from four witnesses who said they saw police shoot one man after he attempted to give himself up and saw them "finish off" another lying motionless on the ground.
Police have denied these charges but have left many questions unanswered, including where the men, who reportedly were longtime Cape residents, received their guerrilla training and arms. Diplomatic observers noted that, if the police are telling the truth, the guerrillas may have developed a new and sophisticated operation inside western Cape Province that includes local arms caches and training centers.
The parents of three of the shooting victims have denied that their sons had any involvement with the African National Congress. Two of them were described as Rastafarians, members of a West Indies-based religious cult that generally shuns conventional politics. A third was a 23-year-old reportedly being treated as a mental outpatient at a local hospital.
"That's nonsense," said John Miya, when asked today if his son Godfrey, 23, a Rastafarian and one of the victims, was an ANC member. He said his son had left home early that Monday heading to the outskirts of the township where unemployed men wait each morning for jobs as day laborers.
Like several other parents, Miya, an Apostolic minister, said his wife learned of their son's death when she saw his body on the television news that night.
Police have reacted angrily to the Cape Times' reports, subpoenaing one reporter to compel him to reveal the names of the alleged witnesses and barring the newspaper from daily police briefings.
Whether the seven were guerrillas or just bystanders made little difference to the crowd today, which hailed the victims as martyrs. Each wooden coffin was draped with the ANC's green, black and white colors, and a congress banner and a homemade red flag with a lopsided hammer and sickle preceded the coffins into the stadium.
Grim young men wore black berets and yellow T-shirts, with this message on the back: "We shall cross many rivers of blood on our long march to liberty."
The Rev. Wesley Mabuza, a Methodist minister, asked the crowd of several thousand, "What is a black man's life worth in South Africa? Because black lives have become cheap, they the seven were shot like flies."
Besides the ban on speeches, officials also imposed restrictions on press coverage, limiting to two each the number of foreign television crews and photographers.
Despite the lifting of emergency restrictions, the civil unrest that has plagued South Africa for 19 months and taken more than 1,100 lives continued unabated this week. Five blacks were killed last night at Blyvooruitzicht gold mine west of Johannesburg, three of them when police opened fire on striking miners. Two others reportedly were killed by the strikers.
On Tuesday police opened fire on a crowd of black youths outside Nelspruit, killing at least three and wounding 80 who had gathered to protest a court case against other youths.