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South African court and police crack down on black newspapers

Black journalism in white-ruled South Africa took a bad knock this week. The country's biggest daily newspaper for blacks is likely to be off streets for at least three weeks as a result of a Supreme Court ruling on its "license to print."

And two senior black journalists, one of them the head of the national trade union for black journalists and other news media workers, have received banning orders that restrict them to various limited areas and forbid them to enter newspaper offices.

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The newspaper affected is Post Transvaal, which succeeded the World newspaper , the daily the government banned outright in October 1977. The editor of the World, Percy Qoboza, was jailed for several months without trial at that time.

Mr. Qoboza now is editor of Post Transvaal, which circulates mainly in Soweto , the giant black residential township near Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city.

Post Transvaal has been off the streets for more than two months because of a strike by black journalists who demanded better pay and working conditions. But it seemed everything was over a few days ago. The owners of the paper, the giant Argus Printing and Publishing Company, and the representatives of the strikers finally settled on various compromises, and the journalists went back to work.

Then the government stepped in. Security police served a warrant on Qoboza, telling him that Post Transvaal had forfeited its right to publish because its government registration certificate had lapsed. That, in turn, was because the paper had not been published for more than 30 days during the strike.

The government said it would be necessary for the paper to reapply for a registration certificate. By law this process must take at least 21 days from the time the application is made and could drag on for much longer.

The Argus company immediately went to the Supreme Court attempting to have the government warrant declared null and void and to have the registration certificate restored.

It pointed out in its pleadings that Post Transvaal had printed two token issues during the strike period which were sent to various state libraries and other institutions.

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But the judge ruled Dec. 29 that this was not sufficient. So the Argus company has had to reapply for registration. It also has applied to Minister of Internal Affairs J. Chris Heunis to intervene to restore the paper's registration license immediately, without insisting on the whole long bureaucratic process.

But it seems unlikely that Mr. Heunis will do this. Indeed, many believe some members of the government are delighted at this opportunity to discipline Post Transvaal, which consistently is highly critical of government policy and which some government supporters consider "inflammatory."

Two other newspapers, all part of the Post family, have been affected the same way as Post Transvaal. They are the weekly Sunday Post and another local Soweto paper, the Sowetan. It could cost the Argus company a substantial amount to get them all registered again.

If, for example, the government decides that any of the papers might "at any time," among other things, express views or convey any information that might be calculated to "endanger the security of the state . . . or the maintenance of public order," it is entitled to levy a deposit of up to $15,000.

And if the government later decides to close any of the newspapers down, it simply keeps the money.

The black journalists who have been banned are Zwelakhe Sisulu, head of the black media workers' union and news editor of the Sunday Post, and Murimuthu Subramoney, who has been a correspondent in South Africa for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

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