As scenes of terrorist carnage unfolded in Vienna and Rome, a spasm of racial violence shattered seasonal hopes of peace and goodwill across South Africa. For the country's whites, all signs appeared to point to a new and ominous phase of killing, one that seemed to bear out recent warnings by the outlawed African National Congress (A.N.C.) that "soft" targets--meaning unarmed civilians, including whites--would no longer be off limits. Nonetheless, blacks suffered the brunt of the year-end violence. At least five people died in the township of Soweto, as militants fought with migrant workers who refused to observe a "black Christmas" boycott called by the militants to honor those who had died since the violence began in September 1984. In Natal province, 58 blacks were killed when 2,000 Zulus and 3,000 members of the Pondo tribe, armed with spears, shields, clubs and shotguns, clashed in a Christmas Day battle sparked by tribal and political rivalries.
To blacks and whites alike, the most troubling event took place two days before Christmas, as holiday shoppers crowded the gaily decorated arcades of the Sanlam shopping center in Amanzimtoti, 18 miles south of Durban. Outside an ice-cream parlor, a crowd of parents and children had gathered around a festive display featuring Santa Claus when a bomb hidden in a nearby garbage bin exploded. Within seconds, the scene of holiday merriment was transformed into grim mayhem. Five whites, among them a two-year-old child, were killed. In all, 61 people, including several blacks, were injured.
Until now, South African whites, who for the most part live in segregated enclaves that exclude blacks, have been well insulated from such violence. Indeed, of the 850 South Africans killed in the country-wide unrest in 1985, only 15 have been white civilians. While many whites have been concerned about the black unrest and attendant violence, few felt immediately threatened. The Sanlam shopping center bombing has shaken that confidence.
With good reason. It was the third time in eight days that whites had been victims of racially motivated violence. Two days before, an unidentified non-white youth threw a hand grenade under a van parked on a crowded Durban street, injuring eight whites. On Dec. 15, six whites were killed when their truck hit a land mine as they drove along a road near the Zimbabwe border. The A.N.C. admitted that it had planted the device, as well as six others that have killed seven and injured eleven since November. Predictably, the government of State President P.W. Botha promptly blamed the A.N.C. for the Sanlam bombing. But the organization's silence has led some analysts to speculate that the incident may have been the work of a militant A.N.C. offshoot.
Members of the right-wing Conservative Party hotly denounced the attacks and called for Botha to retaliate by cracking down on the rebels and their supporters. Later in the week Lesotho, one of the neighboring countries the South African government has long accused of harboring A.N.C. rebels, claimed that its territory had been raided by South African commandos who gunned down nine A.N.C. members and sympathizers. Officially, Pretoria denied any involvement, but, warned the State Security Council, South Africa's neighbors "must be urged to realize that if this menace is allowed to continue, all the people of southern Africa will pay a heavy price."