October 31, 2002

SOUTH AFRICA: Explosions rock Soweto - right wing blamed

Nine explosions rocked Soweto, south of Johannesburg overnight damaging a mosque and railway lines and killing one person in what Cabinet ministers believe were meant to provoke violence and instability in the country.

Whether another explosion, damaging the Buddhist monastery in Bronkhorstspruit east of Pretoria, is linked to this campaign, is still not clear.

A woman was killed and her husband wounded in one of the blasts, which President Thabo Mbeki said on Wednesday, October 30, was the work of criminals seeking to introduce a terrorist campaign in South Africa. He said it was important for South Africans not to respond to the provocation. Although it was still not clear who the perpetrators were, the incidents appeared to be in line with information the government had about racist rightwing groups trying to overthrow the state. Fifteen men have been arrested in recent months for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

The series of explosions began around 11.30pm on Tuesday, October 29, when passers-by alerted police to two "suspicious" white men near a filling station in Potchefstroom Road. Upon investigation, police found a bomb wired to a clock near the garage. The device was defused. However, at midnight three explosions occurred at a bridge at New Canada railway station. About 400m from the scene of the initial blasts two more bombs exploded, causing extensive damage to the railway line. At 12.20am, another bomb ripped through a mosque in Dhlamini.

A piece of railway line fell onto a shack in Protea South at about 1.40am killing Claudina Mokane, and wounding her husband, Simon Sikwati. He was recovering at the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital on Wednesday after undergoing an operation in which doctors stitched up injuries to his face and an arm. Around 3.15am, Soweto police radio control and the dog unit reported that a guard at Midway railway station had informed them of an explosion at the station.

On the news of the bombing, the rand entered free fall, losing 21c as the markets initially panicked. Having rallied past R10 to the dollar in October, it plunged to R10,29 in early trade before recovering to about R10,08 later in the day. Economists fear, however, that foreign investors might react to the bomb blasts only later in the week. President Thabo Mbeki said that the bombs were the work of criminals seeking to destabilise SA through a terrorist campaign, and suggested that the explosions were the work of right-wingers.

Groups throughout South Africa condemned the blasts: The African National Congress (ANC) called on the law enforcement agencies to ensure the arrest of perpetrators. The party also appealed to all South Africans to keep calm and assist police investigations into the matter. Labour federation Cosatu said it was not hard to conclude that the attacks were part of the resurgent right-wing assault on the country's democracy. The New National Party said this incident placed the focus on the proposed amendment to the Explosives Bill, which would be debated in Parliament next week. Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon said bombs and terrorism had no place anywhere in the world, least of all in democratic SA. "The SA Police Service will enjoy our fullest support in interdicting and apprehending the killers concerned and the group responsible ... they have no place to hide in SA," Leon said. The Inkatha Freedom Party condemned the "callous disregard for life" of the perpetrators of the bomb blasts. However, the party warned that it was important not to make premature judgment in the heat of the moment. (SAPA / BUSINESS DAY)

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