Soweto, South Africa
By closing off avenues of peaceful dissent, the South African government is virtually guaranteeing further violence in this racially troubled country. So says Dr. Nthato Motlana, chairman of the Soweto Committee of Ten civic organization.
His comments, in an interview with this newspaper, came as black dissent continued to surface in South Africa on the fourth anniversary of the nationwide disturbances that began in soweto on June 16, 1976.
In Cape Town, black and Colored (mixed race) workers indulged in a one-day absence from work June 16 to commemorate the anniversary. Their action reportedly brought much of the business in the city to a halt.
In Soweto, police were out in force, and large numbers of black workers went to their jobs as usual, despite appeals for a mass work stoppage.
In one of Cape Town's black townships, a police constable was stabbed to death June 15 while charging into a crowd of demonstrating youths.
Disturbances were reported in all four of the country's provinces.In Johannesburg, for the second straight day, police broke up demonstrations outside the Regina Mundi Catholic church -- where two of the banned June 16 commemorative services were to have been held -- by using tear gas and "sneeze machines," (large blowers that send up billows of chemical irritant powder.)
But Dr. Motlana says such a hard-line approach convinces many black youths they have no alternative but violence to change the South African system.
The South African government "has obviously chosen confrontation over the path of dialogue and peace," says Dr. Motlana.
Moderate black leadership has been systematically undercut until "the only competing parties in the country are the government and the ANC," he says. (ANC stands for the African National Congress, an black organization banned in South Africa for years and now committed to the armed overthrow of the Pretoria government.) The result is likely to be continued civil unrest, he predicts.
"And when it does explode, it will be spontaneous and leaderless," he warns -- because most black leaders have been detained, imprisoned, banned, or have fled into exile.
The only political opinions offered to black people here, says Dr. Motlana, are by government-created institutions that are so bereft of power as to be meaningless.
Nor is the government moving to ameliorate the commonplace grievances that vex black people, he charges.
Apart from a program to build more black schools and the installation of automatic telephones in Soweto, the situation in the black township since 1976 "has gone from bad to worse," according to Dr. Motlana.
Consequently, he says, the underlying reasons for discontent "are still there."
Perhaps the most discouraging fact, he says, is that when unrest surfaces the government here still blames "outside agitation," rather than racially discriminatory policies.
"They blame it on the Russians," he gibes. "When they beat up people outside Regina Mundi, they are not beating up blacks. They are beating Russians? I've never heard such nonsense, man."
Shaking his head, Dr. Motlana says future prospects for South Africa seem "very bleak indeed. It seems there is no hope."
Nevertheless, he says, some black people will continue nonviolent protests of the South African government, despite serious doubts whether their efforts will do much good.
"As a black community of 22 million, we cannot just sit back and let those racists run roughshod over us," he points out.
"Even if it means detention and death, we must do what we can to negate what they're doing."