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South African neo-Nazis executed during uprising

Published Oct. 6, 2005

The three white men in ripped khaki uniforms and boots lay sprawled Friday beside their bullet-riddled blue Mercedes-Benz. One man was dead. The other two bled slowly into the red earth as they talked.

They were from Naboomspruit, a farming town further north, said Fanie Uys, his face contorted in pain and sweating in the brutal midday sun. They had come with several thousand other armed right-wing Afrikaners to support the embattled regime of Lucas Mangope, tin-pot dictator of the black homeland of Bophuthatswana.

But they ended up in a fierce firefight with the homeland's own security forces, and now they were injured, surrounded by troops _ and doomed.

Uys, a balding, middle-age man with a mustache, held his hands up in surrender, resting his head painfully against a rear tire. Blood oozed from a wound in his left hip.

Beside him, face down in the dirt, Alwyn Walfaardt lifted his bearded head. No, he said, it wasn't a mistake to come, even though they had been shot. He was bleeding on both arms but otherwise appeared uninjured. "We came because the Afrikaner Volksfront asked us to come," he said weakly.

He pleaded for help.

"That guy is wounded," Walfaardt said, pointing to Uys. "Can you just get us some help, please? Can somebody get us an ambulance? We need an ambulance for this guy."

At least 15 minutes went by as the two wounded men lay in the hot sun and police rifled the car and confiscated their weapons. The third man, identified only as Fourie, lay crumpled and dead in a pool of blood. He wore the camouflage fatigues of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, with the group's swastika-like emblem.

Photographers gathered round in a ghoulish scene, snapping endless photos of their agony. A crowd of blacks taunted the men. "Are you sorry now?" one man shouted.

Suddenly, a young black man in a green police uniform walked up and, without a word, shot Uys in the chest with an assault rifle from two feet away. Uys jerked and slumped down, his eyes half-open in death. Then the man turned and shot Walfaardt in the back of head.

The cold-blooded execution was a grim example of the anarchy that seethed in the tense streets of this homeland capital in the wake of a right-wing invasion before dawn Friday to put down a popular uprising against Mangope.

Less than an hour later, Mangope capitulated. He announced that he would join South Africa's first all-race elections next month and agreed to reincorporate his nominally independent territory into South Africa after the April 26-28 voting, as the protesters had demanded.

South African President Frederik de Klerk announced in Pretoria that he was sending 1,500 armed troops to restore order here, with more soldiers standing by, if necessary. He said the deployment of troops would "ensure the unacceptable situation is immediately brought to an end."

Whether the army and the political compromise will end the bitter strikes, rioting and bloodshed that has turned this once-neat town into an ugly urban war zone remains to be seen. Police and medical authorities confirmed at least 22 people were killed, but the final toll could be higher.

De Klerk met in a crisis session with Nelson Mandela, head of the African National Congress, and both leaders pleaded for peace. No one is discounting revenge attacks or other violence.

By nightfall, armored personnel carriers with South African combat troops escorted convoys of Afrikaners to the border. Thousands of other armed whites retreated from a Bophuthatswana air force base that they had occupied beside the main airport. An uneasy calm settled on the riot-torn city, punctuated by occasional gunfire.

The rout of the right-wingers, who had been urged to come by Mangope to save his regime, appeared a victory for the government and ANC. Put simply, the new South Africa had survived its first violent challenge from the old.

Both the South African military and the Bophuthatswana security forces had remained loyal in the first major showdown with the extremists who have long threatened to launch a civil war rather than submit to democracy and black majority rule. The right-wing clearly had miscalculated.

And Mangope, installed as president in 1977 by the white-minority regime in Pretoria, had finally buckled to pressure. Bophuthatswana, one of 10 homelands and territories created under apartheid to permanently separate blacks from whites in South Africa, will officially disappear in less than seven weeks.

The outcome was not always clear. The crisis began Monday when teachers joined other striking public servants here. Their initial demand was for pay raises and pensions, but the spontaneous protests spread quickly to a general anti-Mangope uprising that paralyzed the capital.

But Thursday afternoon, many of the police who had wounded scores of protesters and filled the streets with tear gas suddenly defected, joining the demonstrators and demanding free elections. It was unclear if Mangope's 5,000-man defense force would crush the revolt or move against him.

The chaos worsened early Friday when hundreds of cars and trucks filled with armed and angry members of the Afrikaner Volksfront, the alliance of white supremacists opposed to the elections, roared in to offer support.

South African officials and reporters estimated anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 white militants had arrived. Mangope had welcomed their help, but specifically asked that the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, a vicious neo-Nazi faction, stay away.

Within hours, roving bands of whites had fired indiscriminately at blacks on the street, killing at least two men and one woman in central Mafikeng, twin city to the capital. Others paraded through town, guns bristling from their windows. Several cars chased reporters and television crews through the streets at high speed, firing shots in at least one case.

Paul Taylor of the Washington Post and John Battersby of the Christian Science Monitor were pulled three times from their car, punched, kicked and beaten by whites outside the air base.

The only major skirmish in the capital occurred about 12:45 p.m. at a dusty intersection just outside the city center. A convoy of 18 vehicles filled with right-wingers roared by a road block set up by the Bophuthatswana army. Someone in the convoy fired into a crowd of blacks, killing a woman. The soldiers ordered the group to stop; a tense stand-off ensued.

Suddenly, fierce gunfire erupted. The soldiers fired with assault rifles from their armored vehicles. The whites fired back from their cars with hunting rifles and shotguns. Terrified civilians and reporters scrambled for cover.

All but the blue Mercedes escaped.