The horrifying slaughter of 23 demonstrators in the South African state of Ciskei this week has thrown into turmoil the slow efforts to create a democratic multiracial nation. And it sharply emphasizes that the complex struggle is not only between blacks and whites, but between blacks and blacks as well.
Aside from the tragedy of the killings themselves, the shootings undermine attempts for peaceful evolution in favor of violent revolution. In fact, there are critics of the African National Congress who claim the ANC deliberately provoked a confrontation - knowing people might get killed - as a way of furthering its own agenda.Whatever the motives, the brutal gunning down of demonstrators has roused emotions in South Africa. And even though the shooting was done by black soldiers, the white government of President F.W. de Klerk is being blamed for not controlling those who did the shooting.
The Ciskei homeland is one of those territories set aside by the South African government as semi-autonomous, black-ruled regions. But the ANC and others contend the homelands are illegitimate creations aimed at furthering apartheid.
The 1 million square miles of Ciskei is governed - if that's the right word - by Brig. Gen. Oupa Gqozo, who seized power in 1990 and set up a military regime. The ANC sent 20,000 demonstrators to the border demanding the overthrow of Gqozo, who has opposed the ANC in the past.
Not surprisingly, Gqozo's troops opened fire. Who did what first is being argued, and there are conflicting claims. But the shootings appear to have been unprovoked.
The ANC is demanding that de Klerk remove Gqozo end other violence, agree to a democratically elected constitution-drafting body and agree to an interim government before the ANC will return to the negotiating table.
That may be tough for de Klerk to do since the ANC may then mount assaults on leaders of other quasi-independent states. And since the ANC does not represent all blacks in South Africa, de Klerk can hardly give in to all their demands without alienating other groups.
The best approach is for all parties to get back to the bargaining table and hold serious, sincere talks - without trying to make points with violent confrontations around the country. Violence tends to breed counter-violence. Turmoil will not reassure whites about giving up political control and it is not the way to peace.