New S. Africa laws put reform on hold
South Africa's ``emergency'' crackdown has ignited fierce debate here over whether it is working -- and placed on hold moves to bring blacks into negotiatied ``power sharing'' with the ruling white minority. Over the weekend, the government began laying the groundwork for possible repeal of the 11-day-old national emergency proclamation. But it did so by passing two new security laws allowing imposition of identical powers in any place declared an ``unrest area'' by the minister of law and order. The legislation also allows police to arrest and jail people without charge for up to six months.
The manner in which the new legislation was passed -- through the President's Council, not Parliament -- reflected the government's current emphasis on quelling unrest rather than pushing political reform. The security bills had been blocked by mixed-race and Asian South Africans, in separate parliamentary chambers created in 1984 under a pilot power-sharing arrangement with nonwhites. The council, on which President P.W. Botha commands an unassailable majority, was created at the same time, and has the power to pass legislation in cases of deadlock.
Mr. Botha's pre-emergency offers of ``power-sharing'' with the country's 22-million-strong black majority -- excluded from the 1984 reform -- focused on creation of a second presidential council, for blacks. He said this would give them input into revision of South Africa's political system to allow a say for all races.
But most black leaders rejected the idea. They argued, among other things, that the existing three-chamber Parliament and President's Council retained ultimate power for whites. Opposition politicians were quick to argue that Botha risked proving precisely that, by using the council to approve security bills opposed by the nonwhite houses.
The point, to the government, is academic. In imposing the nationwide emergency, Mr. Botha charged that 21 months of mostly ``black on black'' political violence had so cowed blacks that even those who wanted to take up the government's reform offer were unable to do so. These, he said, were a ``majority.'' Official spokesmen suggest current strategy is to crack down for as long and as hard as necessary to root out such ``intimidation.'' Then, negotiated reform will come to the fore.
Political restrictions were tightened further over the weekend. The divisional police commissioner in the Western Cape Province placed a gag order on 118 organizations that oppose apartheid and banned the press from reporting anything the groups say. Police have also banned possession of T-shirts bearing the names of such groups in some Eastern Cape areas. The national police commissioner did lift a week-old blanket ban on reporters entering black areas, but said the press needed local police permission to enter and could still not cover political unrest there.
Latest official figures, announced by the Bureau for Information Sunday, said 55 people had been killed in political violence since the declaration of the emergency. Three bomb blasts near Durban overnight claimed no casualties, but one of them ruptured a crude oil pipeline and brought firemen racing to contain the blaze short of an adjacent refinery.
Although the casualty toll represents an increase on the pre-emergency average of about four victims each day, officials say the surging violence would have claimed even more lives without the crackdown. In recent days, adds spokesman Leon Melett, there has been ``a downward trend.'' But even unprecedented news-media curbs have not prevented an intensifying debate over whether the emergency can bring peace -- or create conditions for negotiated power-sharing. In Parliament, where debates are exempt from state-of-emergency curbs on reporting, liberal-opposition delegate Ray Swart charged that the new security laws ``will result in fostering extremism born of despair as the avenues for peaceful expression and change are increasingly closed.'' Opposition chief Colin Eglin added: ``The state of emergency which exists today may create a fa,cade of order, but it will not create the conditions under which genuine and serious negotiations can take place.'' Similar remarks by such black leaders as Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu cannot be quoted under emergency curbs. Several hundred black workers in retail chain stores near Johannesburg and Pretoria, meanwhile, have staged wildcat strikes to protest the alleged detention of union officials in the nationwide sweep of arrests that accompanied the emergency.
President Botha, speaking at a police academy Friday in his first published remarks since the emergency, rejected the outside world's ``hypocrisy'' and ``double standards'' with regard to South Africa. He complained that outsiders had ignored the reforms he had already made in the apartheid system.
The next major step along that road had been expected at an August congress of Botha's National Party. Officials interviewed before the emergency said the President would use that forum to unveil unprecedently specific ideas on power-sharing with blacks. There has been speculation in the South African press, however, that he may now use the meeting to move the country toward an early election at a time when the crackdown has undercut ultraconservative whites who had charged the government was paving the way for a takeover by blacks.