By Norm Dixon
South African police opened fire without warning on African National Congress vice-president Walter Sisulu's motorcade as it travelled from Johannesburg to his Soweto home in the early hours of July 18. An ANC driver was killed by police bullets and two passengers were seriously injured when the car crashed.
Sisulu was returning from a celebration of Nelson Mandela's 75th birthday. Asked by reporters if he suspected the shooting was an assassination attempt, Sisulu responded: "What else can it be?".
Following the unprovoked attack on the ANC's second most important leader — and which, incredibly, was reported only as a footnote to the day's South Africa news in most of the Australian press — the ANC demanded an immediate investigation and said the attempt on Sisulu's life again underlined the need for South Africa's police and security forces to be bought immediately under multiparty control.
The ANC said that as the motorcade carrying Walter and Albertina Sisulu was travelling towards Soweto, an unmarked police car, with no blue light or police registration plates, travelling at high speed and driven by two men in civilian clothes, "attempted to travel immediately alongside the vehicle in which the Sisulus were. It was the middle vehicle in a three-vehicle convoy.
"When the lead vehicle of the security escort slowed to force the unidentified vehicle to move away from the ANC deputy president's vehicle, shots were fired at the convoy. The driver of the lead vehicle was shot — and subsequently died — resulting in the car overturning." Police arrested another of Walter Sisulu's bodyguards after the attack.
The shooting, said the ANC, was the second "in a matter of months involving police firing, or preparing to fire, at Mr Sisulu at virtually the same location".
After intense pressure from the ANC, police announced on July 21 that the two police officers involved would be investigated for attempted murder.
The attack comes as violence has escalated in the wake of the setting of April 27 for South Africa's first non-racial election. Members of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party have been involved in a spree of murderous attacks against ANC members and supporters in Natal and the townships around Johannesburg.
Many South Africans suspect the so-called "third force" — death squads operated by sections of the security forces — have also been behind much of the violence.
The ANC charges that the violence comes from those determined to sabotage free and fair non-racial elections because they fear such a democratic exercise will expose their minimal political support among the South African people.
Both the Inkatha Freedom Party and the far-right, white-supremacist Conservative Party withdrew from the multiparty negotiations on July 18.
Inkatha, the CP and other white extremists, and Brigadier Oupa Gqoza and Lucas Mangope, the discredited leaders of the Ciskei and Bophuthatswana bantustans, have formed an alliance called the Concerned South Africans Group — Cosag — to oppose the election date and demand a federal system that guarantees "self-determination" for their self-declared racial constituencies.
All but Inkatha, and possibly the CP, are certain to fail to gather enough votes to be represented in the constituent assembly that will draft South Africa's first democratic constitution.