S. Africa's policy: repression and reform. Crackdown sparks most intense spate of urban attacks
South African government policy toward the country's restless black majority has unfolded over the past two weeks as a complex political amalgam of repression and reform, containment and concession. The backdrop to this alternating policy has been the most intense campaign of urban terror in South African history. Since the beginning of the nationwide state of emergency a month ago, no less than 13 bombs have exploded. Including the most recent explosion, a bomb that rocked the Johannesburg stock exchange yesterday, all but two have been in white-administered cities and towns rather than in black townships. Three people have been killed and over 120 injured in the blasts.
The state of emergency is the clearest manifestation of the white-controlled government's determination to contain and turn back the tide of black revolt. That tide has swept across South Africa and resulted in the death of at least 2,000 people, nearly all black, in the past 22 months.
Police use of emergency powers to detain hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people deemed a threat to public order is a major component of the crackdown.
The identity of only one detainee has been officially released: that of Zwelakhe Sisulu. Editor of the newspaper New Nation, Mr. Sisulu is the son Albertina Sisulu and Walter Sisulu. Mrs. Sisulu is a founding member and president of the United Democratic Front -- the largest coalition of anti-apartheid groups in South Africa. Walter Sisulu is a jailed leader of the outlawed African National Congress (ANC) -- the most prominent black nationalist group struggling to bring an end to white-minority rule.
In its most recent clampdown efforts, Pretoria announced new security measures early this week.
On Monday, the government banned indoor meetings of 35 organizations, including major trade unions, in Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city. The ban, ordered by Brig. Gideon Laubser, divisional police commissioner for the nearby black township of Soweto, reinforced an extant ban on all outdoor meetings.
However, the government said yesterday that the ban had incorrectly included indoor meetings of trade unions and that it would be rectified. The ban will still apply to a number of student and anti-apartheid groups.
The government also announced yesterday that new security measures -- identity cards, fences, and guards -- designed to halt disorder at black schools will be put into place. Black students are scheduled to return to school on Monday.
The government's attempts to neutralize its radical foes has met with armed and political resistance.
The bomb blitz aside, armed resistance was expressed dramatically over the weekend of July 5-6, when a roving assassination squad shot dead five black government officials in broad daylight. The three assassins were later hunted down by police, who killed two of them and sent a third fleeing for his life.
On the political front, the black trade unions rather than political organizations per se, have spearheaded resistance to the state of emergency. The trade union challenge is two pronged: legal and industrial.
In the Supreme Court, the Metal and Allied Workers Union has sought an order declaring the state of emergency invalid. The application to the court was based on the alleged failure of President Pieter W. Botha to lay the emergency regulations before Parliament within 14 days as required by law. The case has been scheduled to be heard before a full bench of the Natal Province Supreme Court on Monday -- a clear sign of its importance.
On the labor front, two major black unions -- the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and its largest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) -- voted last week in favor of industrial action in protest against the detention of trade union leaders. The independent Labor Monitoring Group says that nearly 220 trade union leaders and officials are in detention. Nearly 90 percent of these detainees are members of Cosatu or its affiliates.
Last week, Cosatu gave the government and employers until yesterday to meet a minimum set of demands, failing which large-scale industrial protest seemed certain. Its demands included the release of trade union leaders and an end to ``oppression.'' Late yesterday, Cosatu announced that it is now planning what it called a national day of action Monday to protest emergency rule clamped on the country a month ago.
A six day stoppage prior to yesterday's deadline had halted production at five mines in Kimberley, the historic center of South Africa's crucial mining industry. However, according to reports, striking black workers at five diamond mines went back to work yesterday after the giant De Beers Corp. pledged to campaign for the release of union officials detained under South Africa's month-old state of emergency.
Two shafts at a gold mine in the Orange Free State remained out of action, however, a spokesman for the huge Anglo American Corp. said. The company closed the shafts at the Free State Geduld mine after some 5,000 black miners staged a slowdown to demand the release of trade unionists.
The spokesman said the shafts were closed because of unsafe working conditions. However, according to reports, NUM officials said the miners had been locked out. The NUM has been pressing for the release of about a dozen of its officials, believed to be among some 3,000 people detained.
The most recent concession to excite media interest was the lifting of restrictions on Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela. But, Mrs. Mandela dismissed the lifting of restrictions saying, she was now in an ``open prison.'' She is now as free -- or as unfree -- as her black compatriots. Previously, she was prohibited from living in her Soweto home and from talking to the press.
She may now make statements to the media provided that they are not ``subversive,'' as defined in the emergency regulations, and provided they are not calculated to further the aims of the outlawed ANC. The wide definition of subversion in the regulations eliminates all but the most innocuous of political statements.
The past two weeks have also seen the formal inauguration of more fundamental reforms.
These reforms include the abolition of influx control, a measure that applied to blacks only and that resulted in thousands of black citizens being jailed for contravening the ``pass laws.'' Also included are the extension of full freehold property rights to blacks in their own segregated areas and the return of South African citizenship to thousands of blacks who were previously deemed to be nationals of South Africa's four supposedly independent states or ``homelands.''
Of these, the reformist measure that has won the most praise from respected government opponents was the repeal of the pass laws.
But opponents have some reservations about the policy of ``orderly urbanization'' with which the government plans to replace influx control. Some skeptics fear authorities will use a revised and stricter anti-squatting law to bring influx control back via the backdoor.
South Africa's ruling National Party will hold a special federal congress on August 12 to thrash out consensus on the detailed structure of the national council and on policy toward blacks in general.
It will be a critical congress, perhaps the most crucial in the National Party's history of more than 70 years. On it will depend, to a large degree, the success of the government's hopes of wooing credible black leaders to cooperate with its reformist plans.
This report is filed under South Africa's emergency regulations, which prohibit naming people who have been detained, reporting security force actions unless officially authorized, and relaying information deemed subversive.