By GENE MUSTAIN and MICHAEL ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writers | Monday, April 25, 1994
JOHANNESBURG—A 200-pound car bomb ripped through downtown Johannesburg yesterday, killing nine and terrorizing South Africans two days before the first all-race elections.
“I thought I was dead,” said Tina Dhumess, 42, after doctors patched her head cuts. “I was praying that my soul was going to heaven.”
There was no warning and no one claimed responsibility for the city’s worst terrorist bomb that also wounded 100 people.
But suspicion fell on white extremists—the last holdouts to the election that would usher in black-majority rule.
“The right wing volcano that we all thought was just about extinct could be about to blow,” said David Welsh, a professor of political studies at Cape Town University.
A spokesman for the right-wing Afrikaner Resistant Movement denied the group was involved.
Later yesterday, the police received a tip about a second bomb but it turned out to be a false alarm. Police said dogs trained to detect explosives had identified a parked, stolen car as suspicious but when the car was searched no bomb was found.
“We are not going to be deterred from getting our freedom,” ANC President Nelson Mandela said at a rally in Durban that culminated his campaign for the nation’s highest office. “Nothing they can do . . . can stop us.”
The ANC was expected to win the election. But right wing extremists opposed to black majority rule have threatened drastic actions before three days of voting begin tomorrow.
“There is no possibility that radical minorities will be allowed to frustrate the will of the vast majority of the South African people,” President F. W. de Klerk said.
The car bomb exploded near several political and government offices as hundreds were making their way to church and an outdoor market about 10 a.m.
“There were bodies everywhere,” said a witness, Daniel Tutja. “People were running around screaming and bleeding. I saw a boy . . . one of his arms was gone.”
The blast sparked small fires, blew balconies off buildings and shattered high-rise apartment windows in a four-square block area, trapping passersby in a smoky, fatal rain of steel and glass.
The bomb went off near two office buildings housing the ANC and killed an ANC candidate for regional office, Susan King.
Offices housing the radical Pan Africanist Congress and factions of the South African police and army—all potential terrorist targets—are in the same area.
At a hospital, injured witnesses said they saw two white men running from a smoky car parked on Bree St., where the blast rocked the morning calm.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, this was an attack on the democratization process,” said Tokyo Sexwale, the ANC candidate for premier in the Johannesburg region. “It was a cowardly act.”
Sexwale said the bomb was intended to scare people away from the polls and to damage the country’s image and business prospects worldwide.
A woman who typified the disheartened and plaintive mood of many in the Johannesburg crowd said recent terrorist threats should have resulted in more security.
“Why would they let innocent people get killed as they vie for power? The problem with South Africa is that you can never find the truth. Please tell the world that we people of South Africa are as human as any other people.”
The terrorist struck on a day of bitter symbolism for people opposed to democracy—the lowering, at one minute before midnight, of the old South Africa flag and the raising of the new.
With News Wire Services