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South Africa cracks whip on black dissent

The South African state is resorting to tough and sometimes crude methods of responding to black dissent. To put down the current wave of black unrest the government has taken out of its armory a battery of traditional weapons: bannings, police raids, detentioin without trial, and even the "sjambok," a whip that white farmers used occasionally to beat black laborers.

South African police, according to published reports, used a modern, thinned-down version of the archaic sjambok to disperse black students who gathered to boycott two schools in the eastern Cape Province.

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There are some signs that the unrest is abating. Reports from the western Cape Province indicate thousands of Colored (mixed race) students are returning to class at the start of a new school term.

But that does not mean the school boycott -- which began some four months ago -- is at an end. The Committee of 81, which has been orchestrating the stay-away, says students should return to classes to discuss future moves. Their decisions will presumably be influenced by the reaction of South African government authorities to a number of demands that the students have put forward. These include the unconditional reinstatement of pupils suspended during the boycott, and the correction of educational inequalities in this segregated country.

The South African government earlier pledged itself to a number of education reforms. But its recent hard line on black dissent has stirred resentment among some blacks.

The latest government critic to be silenced is Fanyana Mazibuko, a former Soweto school official and one of the luminaries in the Black Consciousness movement. Mr. Mazibuko was banned late last week. Under the terms of the government-imposed banning order, he may not be quoted in any South African publication, may not enter any black Indian or Colored (mixed race) township other than the one in which he resides, may not attend gatherings, and may not enter any educational institution. That effectively prevents him from continuing his work as assistant director of the South African Committee for Higher Education.

The move comes after Mr. Mazibuko played a major role in forming the nonracial National Educational Union of South Africa, an organization created to lobby for equal education in this racially divided country. Mr. Mazibuko, among the more moderate of black activists here, is banned until 1983.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, called the move "one of the most inexplicable and indeed irresponsible actions of this government."

Equally puzzling was a recent raid by South African security police on the offices of Priscilla Jana, an Indian attorney in Johannesburg who is also banned. Police, armed with a search warrant, rifled her offices searching for material that might be used to further the aims of the banned African National Congress (ANC). They reportedly confiscated several documents, including a copy of the Freedom Charter, a statement of principles of the organization.

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That Mrs. Jana should be in possession of material relating to the ANC is not unexpected. She is currently involved in the legal defense of nine alleged ANC members. The Freedom Charter has recently been reprinted in the mass-circulation Sunday Post newspaper here, and is not an outlawed document.

Such moves have sparked some fears that the government is preparing for another clampdown on black political activity, similar to October 1977. At that time, a massive police swoop resulted in detention of some 47 persons and the banning of 18 organizations.

As of July 1, the government was already holding some 133 persons under wide-ranging so-called "security legislation." Many have started hunger strikes. about the only good news for the South African government is that a wave of labor unrest in the eastern Cape Province has apparently crested and subsided. Workers at a Volkswagen assembly plant in Uitenhage are now back to work, and have accepted a new minimum wage of approximately $1.90 an hour -- less than their demand of $2.60 -- but substantially above their former hourly minimum of approximately $1.50.

The workers also extracted a promise that an impartial committee would be established to determine an appropriate "liveable wage" for workers in the area.

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