South Africans Seek Township Peacekeepers as Political Attacks Escalate, Activists Call for Intervention to Preserve Election Prospects
John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE South African government is facing increasing political and diplomatic pressure to review its opposition to an international peacekeeping force to counter escalating political violence in the country's black townships as political parties begin preparing for the first nonracial ballot.
"There should be international monitoring of the situation, and it should be looked at as a matter of some urgency," says African National Congress (ANC) spokeswoman Gill Marcus.
Since a National Peace Accord was signed by the major parties to the violence last September, more than 1,400 people have died in township political violence, which ranges from random attacks on commuters through group attacks on squatter camps and political assassinations.
In the past eight weeks, more than 600 people have died in violence in the black areas - mainly in the over-crowded townships around Johannesburg and the peri-urban and rural areas of Natal province, where a vicious civil war is being waged between supporters of the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
Western diplomats and human rights lawyers believe that it would be impossible to hold an election in the current climate, and that the widely discredited South African security forces have neither the credibility nor the collective will to stabilize the situation.
This was born out by an incident in the Phola Park squatter camp east of Johannesburg on April 8, when a controversial South African Defense Force Unit - known as 32 Battalion - went on the rampage after the soldiers say they were fired on, allegedly beating, assaulting, and raping more than 100 people.
"It is quite clear that you could not hold elections in the current climate," says Lloyd Vogelman, director of the Project for the Study of Violence at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University. Climate for elections
This view was underscored in a recent report by a group of visiting international jurists who studied the violence at the invitation of Lawyers for Human Rights, a human rights lobby group.
The jurists found that both the ANC and the IFP had stepped up violent attacks on each other and that it would be impossible to hold free and fair elections under the circumstances.
Mr. Vogelman says that an international force would have to include policing and judicial elements and would need to work closely with existing security forces and law officers.
"It can't just be a United Nations peacekeeping force," he says. "It would have to be able to prosecute and have the power of arrest."
A human rights lawyer involved in the follow-up investigation of a judicial commission into the violence told the Monitor that he believed the viciousness of the attack by 32 Battalion was linked to indications that ANC-inspired "defense units" had taken control at the camp, and had ousted community leaders responsible for the defense of the squatter area.
"There is an uncontrollable spiral of attack and counter-attack which is getting increasingly difficult to control," the lawyer said. "The ANC may have to review its whole strategy of defense units if the situation is to be brought under political control. …