South Africa Death in a Paris Hallway
By William R. Doerner (Monday, April 11, 1988)
The job was done swiftly and professionally. Dulcie September, 52, the Paris representative of the antiapartheid African National Congress, was about to turn the key to her office in a run-down building in central Paris last week when an assassin stepped up behind her and squeezed off six shots from a .22- cal. pistol equipped with a silencer. Several minutes later, a worker from a neighboring office found her lying in a pool of blood, dead of bullet wounds to the head. There were no witnesses, and because of the silencer, nobody even heard the gunshots.
From its headquarters in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, officials of the outlawed A.N.C. charged that the South African government was behind the murder of September, a "colored" (mixed race) native of Cape Town and longtime political activist. Her killing, said A.N.C. Spokesman Tom Sebina, was part of a "new campaign by South African death squads." In Paris French leftists organized a parade of 5,000 marchers in September's honor and led a window-shattering attack on Pretoria's tourist office.
South African Foreign Minister Roelof ("Pik") Botha responded with something less than an outright denial of Pretoria's complicity, saying merely, "The South African government cannot be held responsible for this deed." He suggested, without offering any proof, that "serious arguments" among antiapartheid organizations may have led to September's killing. Supporters of the nonracial A.N.C. have indeed been caught up in deadly battles with other political groups, including the blacks-only Azanian People's Organization and the Zulu-based Inkatha organization. Factional disputes also exist inside the A.N.C. French police, however, disclosed no evidence linking any group, of whatever political stripe, to September's murder.
Pretoria did claim responsibility last week for a cross-border attack on what it said was an A.N.C. guerrilla transit facility, situated twelve miles inside Botswana. South African forces staged a postmidnight raid on the house, shot to death four people asleep inside, including at least two Botswanan women, and escaped by helicopter after fire bombing the target. Said Defense Minister General Magnus Malan: "It is the policy of the South African government to combat terror wherever it may occur."
But that stern policy did not prevent the ruling National Party from suffering a parliamentary by-election defeat at the hands of the far-right Conservative Party, its third such loss in the past month. Last week's voting took place in the urban mining constituency of Randfontein, in the Transvaal, a sign that the fast-rising Conservative Party, long seen as the voice primarily of rural Afrikaners, is broadening its base. It was also a sign that the Conservatives, who hold 22 seats in Parliament, vs. the National Party's 133, could pose a serious threat in next October's municipal elections and in a nationwide parliamentary campaign scheduled for 1989.
With reporting by William Dowell/Paris and Bruce W. Nelan/Johannesburg.
Originally appeared in Time.