Even anti-apartheid activists accustomed to government restraints appeared stunned. In a harsh new crackdown on its opponents, the South African government last week announced restrictions prohibiting 17 anti-apartheid organizations from “carrying on or performing any acts whatsoever.” The government also forbade the 800,000-member Congress of South African Trade Unions—the country’s largest labor federation—from taking part in any political activity. And 18 leading activists were placed under personal restraints, which included a ban on media
interviews. Said Dr. Max Coleman, a spokesman for the now-restricted multiracial Detainees’ Parents Support Committee: “The lights are going out in South Africa, and, with them, the last vestiges of freedom to resist the suffocating tentacles of apartheid.”
The measures were the latest in a long list of restrictions introduced since the government declared a state of emergency 20 months ago. Among the organizations affected by the new decree was the nearly three-millionmember United Democratic Front— the country’s largest anti-apartheid organization. The militant African National Congress, which is waging a guerrilla campaign against the apartheid regime, has been illegal since 1960 and has its headquarters in neighboring Zambia.
Among those placed under personal restriction were United Democratic Front copresidents Archibald Gumede and Albertina Sisulu. Claiming that
the government had a responsibility to “ensure the safety of the public,” Law and Order Minister Adriaan J. Vlok said that the regulations would aid “stability, peaceful coexistence and good neighborliness among all population groups.” But some observers suggested that the decree had a secondary purpose: to toughen the government’s image and improve its chances against the country’s increasingly popular extreme right-wing parties in three byelection contests this week.
International condemnation was swift—and harsh. Canadian External
Affairs Minister Joe Clark, head of a nine-member Commonwealth committee seeking ways of pressuring South Africa to dismantle apartheid, condemned the “draconian” regulations. Declared Clark in a written statement: “The restrictions will further limit peaceful legal activities in opposition to a system of institutionalized racism which is unacceptable.” And British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, whose government has resolutely opposed sanctions against South Africa, declared Britain to be “totally opposed to repressive measures of this kind.”
In Cape Town, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered a similar message. “White South Africans must realize that they are at the crossroads,” he warned. “If they do not stop this government soon—and there is not much hope that they will—we are heading for war.”
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