Young black militants, some bearing the green, gold and black colors of the outlawed African National Congress, stood shoulder to shoulder with conservatively dressed white matrons inside St. John's Methodist Church in a comfort able all-white neighborhood of Port Elizabeth. Together they sang freedom songs and prayed for a more peaceful future. For black and white South Africans, it was an unusual display of racial harmony. The occasion: the funeral of Molly Blackburn, a leading white antiapartheid activist who was killed in an automobile crash Dec. 28.
Blackburn, a 55-year-old mother of seven, was an active member of the Black Sash, a group of white women who campaign against apartheid. One of the government's most visible white opponents, she had been arrested several times for attending illegal gatherings with blacks and for entering black townships without permission. Blackburn was often the only white to attend mass funeral rallies for blacks who had died in the racial unrest of the past 16 months, and last week blacks paid tribute to her. "Africans in this country are walking tall on the road she has blazed," Black Activist Mkhuseli Jack told mourners who gathered inside the church for the 90-minute service. Outside, in an emotional farewell, some 20,000 blacks filled the streets. As the flower-draped coffin was loaded into the hearse, they raised their fists in the black-power salute of the A.N.C. and chanted in the Xhosa language, "She is a soldier." Said the Rev. Allan Boesak: "Molly continues in death what she did all her life. She brings us together."
Blackburn and Brian Bishop, a respected civil rights attorney, were killed while returning from a black township in the Eastern Cape, where they had been collecting affidavits from parents whose children were detained by security officials. Their car collided head on with an approaching vehicle. Bishop, Blackburn and the driver of the other vehicle were killed instantly.
The deaths of the two civil rights crusaders were a serious loss for the liberal opposition movement. Some antiapartheid activists openly wondered about the possibility of foul play. Both Blackburn and Bishop had been targets of harassment and death threats from angry whites who considered them traitors. In 1985 Bishop's car was fire bombed. Nonetheless, Bishop's wife and Blackburn's sister, both of whom survived the crash, told relatives that the collision appeared to be a genuine accident.
Blackburn's and Bishop's deaths tragically concluded a particularly turbulent year for South Africa. In all, some 850 Honor guard at Molly Blackburn's funeral people, most of them black, were killed in violence generated by unrest related to the struggle to end apartheid (see chart). Unhappily, 1986 got off to an equally bloody start. On Jan. 1 alone, there were 16 reported deaths. All of the victims were nonwhites and all of the incidents were fueled by racial conflicts.