South Africans are waiting to see if last week's massive security crackdown on black unrest was a precursor to a growing military role in domestic racial affairs.
The government says it has ''no plans'' for similar operations involving the Army. But it also says such an operation will be mounted if ''the need arises.''
The police judge last week's crackdown, involving 7,000 police and Army troops, to have been ''very successful.'' The troops have been withdrawn but there is a continued ''police presence'' in the three black townships targeted - Sebokeng, Sharpeville, and Boipatong. The police say those townships are quiet and that community services there have returned to normal.
In addition to its major show of force last week, the government appears to be pursuing another strategy in trying to deal with black unrest. South African Minister of Cooperation, Development, and Education Gerrit Viljoen has announced that black townships will be encouraged to set up their own police forces.
The move is in line with the government's aim to distance itself gradually from the administration of black urban communities, political analysts say. The establishment of local black police forces is provided for in legislation that has already shifted substantial local governing powers to blacks in their segregated areas.
The government portrays this as a process of granting blacks political power. But critics see it as a cynical attempt to make blacks responsible for governing communities that are inherently unstable because of the legacy of apartheid laws that have ensured poverty in these areas.
Further use of the Army may depend not only on whether things remain calm in the three townships, but also on the situation in other black areas near Johannesburg and other parts of South Africa where unrest has flared.
Most analysts say last week's operation was meant to warn black areas beside Sebokeng, Sharpeville, and Boipatong. But unrest has continued in other black areas. Late last week blacks and police clashed in several townships near Johannesburg and in black areas near Port Elizabeth. Blacks were banned from holding political meetings over the weekend in the Port Elizabeth area.