Clinging to An Illusion of Normality

In early August-seven months after South African President Frederik de Klerk officially launched the ending of apartheid, violence erupted in townships east of Johannesburg, taking more than 900 lives before it subsided several weeks later.

On the surface, the ironies were rank. The end of apartheid appeared to need a scale of formal state violence that exceeded anything in the ruling party's history. The return of curfews, machine guns mounted on police vehicles, and rolls of razor wire made Belfast seem tame in comparison; and the per capita rate of deaths was worse than Beirut by the time it had reached what was to be its halfway mark.

Operation Iron Fist, initiated by the government's Cabinet after 600 people had lost their lives, sent more police and soldiers to the townships than in the Soweto riots of 1976. And the failure of top anti-apartheid leadership to mediate between fighters wrought a sense of their abandonment of "people's struggles" that will take many sea-sons to lift from public imagination.

Worst of all, the violence appeared, initially, to be a war between the Zulu and Xhosa ethnic groups, lending credence to Conservatives' belief that the southern tip of Africa needs apartheid for the sake of peace.

ACCORDING TO RESIDENTS of Kathlehong, a township outside Vereeniging to the east of Johannesburg, the violence began on August 8 when a game of dice led to an argument, and a Zulu-speaking man was stabbed to death by a Xhosa. The following day, several Zulus attacked and killed the Xhosa man.

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