BISHO, CISKEI — BISHO, Ciskei -- Troops opened fire on thousands of black protesters in this South African-created black homeland yesterday, killing 28 supporters of the African National Congress and injuring almost 200.
The shooting was one of the worst at a protest demonstration in South Africa in recent years, and it threatened another major setback for efforts to bring political parties back into talks on the country's future.
It shocked and outraged the nation, which has been struggling for the past two years to overcome apartheid and the ugly image it created around the world. Church leaders and peace monitors agreed with protesters that the shooting was unprovoked.
ANC General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the shooting as "a completely unprovoked attack on unarmed and peaceful demonstrators." Mr. Ramaphosa, who was among the protesters, said the Ciskei troops fired point-blank without warning and kept up the shooting for almost 10 minutes as people fled in fear.
"We are not prepared to allow [South African President F. W.] de Klerk or any of his creations to continue killing our people," he said.
He said 28 people were killed in the massacre and 188 injured.
"This is a massacre, plain and simple," said Chris Hani, head of the South African Communist Party and one of the leaders of yesterday's march. "This is a war against the ANC, the most popular organization in this country. If they can't defeat the ANC politically, then they will try to defeat us with violence."
The Communist Party is a major ally of the ANC.
"It seemed so absolutely unnecessary. If this is a taste of things to come, then God help us," said John Hall, director of the National Peace Committee, which monitors violence across the country.
The South African Council of Churches also issued a statement in Johannesburg, expressing outrage at the blood bath and saying that ministers on the scene thought the shooting was unprovoked.
In Pretoria, the South African capital, Mr. de Klerk insisted his government had sought "to avoid just this" and said the blood bath could have been avoided if all parties had tried to cooperate.
He said South Africa would "continue to watch the situation with a view to stabilize the region and ensure the unrest does not get out of hand."
Thousands of South African troops were deployed to protect South African property in the black homeland, making the area look like a war zone throughout the day.
The incident began suddenly as about 80,000 protesters marched across the border from South Africa into the nominally independent homeland of Ciskei.
Ciskei is one of several homelands set up by South Africa under apartheid to create separate nations for blacks. The homelands, dependent on South African aid, have been failures, and most are dominated by authoritarian regimes. The homelands have been expected to reintegrate to South Africa under a new constitution to share power with the black majority.
Yesterday's march was staged to protest the Ciskei government, run by a military dictator, Brig. Joshua Oupa Gqozo (OU-pa COR-sa), a black who was installed by South Africa and continues to be propped up by Pretoria.
The crowd marched about three miles from a stadium inside King William's Town, on the South African side, to a soccer stadium just inside the Ciskei border, a division marked only with a small sign and no border post.
As the marchers moved into a soccer stadium just inside the border, which was lined with sharp razor wire because of the march, they were greeted by hundreds of Ciskei troops under the command of Brigadier Gqozo. The troops immediately unleashed a barrage of automatic rifle fire.
People fled screaming back toward the South African side. Some dropped to the ground to avoid the fire. Others fell as they were hit.
"They didn't talk. They just shot," said Noxhanti Putu, a young woman who lives on the King William's Town side and took part in the march.
"It's because he's a despot," another marcher, Pumzile Gozo, said of the Ciskei military leader. "He doesn't respect democratic rights."
Tensions had been building for months between the ANC and the Ciskei leader, who initially said he would not allow the ANC to step inside his territory.
He blocked another ANC march planned last month as part of a nationwide protest campaign, and he threatened to shoot ANC leader Nelson Mandela if Mr. Mandela came to Ciskei.
The ANC has mounted a major campaign against the black homeland system, saying that the 10 tribal homelands are creations of the white government and that its leaders are puppets of Pretoria.
Most of the homeland leaders are the government's allies in the stalled negotiations on a new constitution, while the ANC is supported by the Communist Party and the powerful labor union confederation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
Brigadier Gqozo, Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the KwaZulu homeland and President Lucas Mangope of the homeland of Boputhatswana are important to the de Klerk government because they are proof that there are black leaders in the country who are aligned with the de Klerk government and who are adamantly opposed to the ANC.
They represent evidence that the ANC does not speak for all blacks, as the South African government often says. But none of those leaders has been chosen in free elections. Opposition parties are banned in all three.
Church leaders have called on Brigadier Gqozo to hold a referendum so that people of Ciskei can make their wishes on government known, but he has refused. He has also refused in the past to allow any anti-government demonstrations.
The ANC has begun a membership drive in the area and has been getting good turnouts at its meetings.
After yesterday's shooting by Ciskei troops, Brigadier Gqozo charged that the ANC had not adhered to an agreement to go only to the stadium, which is literally a stone's throw from the border. He said ANC supporters tried to come into the homeland capital of Bisho, which was not allowed under the permit they were granted, and he said many ANC supporters were armed.
A Ciskei police official, Brig. M. W. Nkani, charged that "huge amounts" of weapons and ammunition were being smuggled into the homeland by ANC supporters.
The charges have been denied by the ANC, and independent monitors such as Mr. Hall of the Peace Committee said they saw no guns in the hands of the demonstrators.
The situation remained tense late into the evening, with angry demonstrators camping outside the Ciskei border and vowing to remain until Brigadier Gqozo was out of power.
The military leader, formerly a young officer in the South African Defense Force, seized control of the country in a 1990 coup that was staged when then-President Lennox Sebe was out of the country.
The homeland, a largely agricultural region along the southeastern coast of South Africa, has always been dependent on South African aid for its survival, and Brigadier Gqozo has turned to South African troops for assistance whenever there has been a threat to his control.
Since negotiations began on a new constitution for South Africa, several homeland leaders have expressed an interest in being formally reincorporated into South Africa. Some, such as Gen. Bantu Holomisa of nearby Transkei, have thrown in completely with the ANC and have become critics of the South African government.
Not so with Brigadier Gqozo, who was taking part in the constitutional negotiations but has not said he wants his territory incorporated into South Africa.
The Ciskei homeland was created for the Xhosa people, the tribe to which Nelson Mandela belongs.