Shooting spree in black settlement ignites racial tensions

>CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) – Protesters tried to force their way Thursday into the court hearing of a white teenager charged with a shooting rampage in a black settlement that left four people dead, including a mother and her infant.

The bloodshed on Jan. 14 in the Skielik settlement, 100 miles northwest of Johannesburg, has ignited racial tensions that remain close to the surface more than a decade after the end of South Africa’s apartheid system.

Riot police were called in to control the dozens of black protesters who gathered outside the Swartruggens District Court, trying to push through the compound gates as 18-year-old Johan Nel made a brief appearance inside. He faces charges of murder and attempted murder.

The crowd waved signs saying ” no bail, let him rot in jail,” the South African Press Association reported. Police pushed the group to the side of the street.

Police are unclear on a motive, but Skielik’s residents allege that Nel killed out of racial hatred. Leaders of the trade union movement and African National Congress have joined demonstrations in Skielik, which is part of an area known for its game reserves, biting rural poverty and deep divide between black and white.

“When I see a white skin I shiver and I ask, ‘Am I not a person like you, so do I not bleed?’ ” Mayor Wilhelminah Moleko told about 600 mourners at a memorial service shortly after Thursday’s court session.

Nel, wearing camouflage and carrying a rifle, allegedly began firing on a group of children as he took a path through the settlement just outside the scenic village of Swartruggens.

Three-month-old Keditlhotse Moithitlhi died instantly and her 31-year-old mother, Anna Moithitlhi, who was carrying the baby on her back, died in hospital. A 10-year-old boy and 35-year-old man were the other dead. Six others were wounded.

Witnesses told local media that the silent shooter paused only to reload before eventually stopping and disappearing. His father handed him over to police.

Friends have described Nel as quiet and well-mannered, although deeply affected by an armed attack by black intruders on his home when he was a boy.

His lawyer Frikkie Pretorius said Thursday that he would ask for a psychiatric evaluation of his client, who appeared in court with his hands and wrists cuffed.