A sweeping violent change

MICHAEL POSNER August 19 1985

A sweeping violent change

MICHAEL POSNER August 19 1985

A sweeping violent change


Surrounded by searing interracial violence in South Africa last week, a funeral was held for Elizabeth Khumalo, a 16-year-old black girl whom police had shot. But the crowd, which gathered in a tent in the dusty black township of Daveyton, 64 km from Johannesburg, had come primarily to hear the minister’s eulogy. Under the government’s three-week-old state of emergency, only ordained ministers were permitted to speak at funerals, and even they were not allowed to criticize apartheid, South Africa’s system of racial segregation, or any aspect of official policy. But the minister in Daveyton last week was Desmond Tutu, Anglican bishop of Johannesburg, Nobel peace laureate and an impassioned critic of white minority rule. Ignoring the dictates of the emergency law—and the security forces surrounding the funeral tent—Tutu declared: “I have been a priest for 24 years, and I have never been told what to preach and I am not going to start now. If I have to go to jail for preaching the gospel, so be it.”

With that, the 53-year-old bishop described apartheid as the root cause of the violence now sweeping through South Africa and he pleaded for talks

between the Pretoria government of President P.W. Botha and the nation’s black leadership. Tutu’s defiance was one of several breaches—and the mildest—in the government’s efforts to exert control over a climate of gathering crisis in South Africa.

In the port city of Durban, where most of the nation’s 870,000 Indians reside, mobs of black Zulu youths went on a

furious four-day rampage of stoning, arson and theft, driving more than 1,500 Indians from their homes in the mixed township of Inanda, north of the city. As they did during similar rioting in Durban in 1949 which claimed 142 lives, the Indians fought back, forming vigilante groups armed with guns against the spearcarrying blacks. By Sunday more than 54 people were dead and some 300 wounded—the highest ca-

sualty toll for a single week this year. Among the homes pillaged: one that belonged to the late Mohandas Gandhi, the Indian leader and apostle of nonviolence, who lived in Durban at various times between 1893 and 1914.

Violence erupted in Cape Town and elsewhere as security forces struggled to contain the militancy of the nation’s 23 million blacks. In Brandfort, an isolated

town 425 km south of Johannesburg, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who took refuge in the home of Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed African National Congress (ANC).

In response, Botha declared that the emergency measures, which apply to areas around 36 towns and cities, might be extended. “I am not going to get hysterical,” Bo-

tha said. “But if necessary, we can take stronger steps than we have taken so far.” To that end, the government authorized police to impose curfews and to limit the movement of blacks.

At the same time, a widely publicized trial was under way in the Natal capital of Pietermaritzburg. Conducted under tight security in the red-brick Supreme Court building, 16 leaders of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the nation’s

chief antiapartheid organization, are accused of a wide-ranging conspiracy, in alliance with the ANC, to create “a revolutionary atmosphere” that would lead to the overthrow of the government. During three days of preliminary arguments, defence lawyers asked the court to dismiss the 580-page indictment as too sweeping. Conviction, they argued, would make even rhetorical criticism of the government a crime. A decision on

the motion was expected this week.

Meanwhile, at Pretoria’s request, senior officials of the U.S., British and West German governments met South African foreign minister R.F. Pik Botha last week in Vienna and Frankfurt. Details of the talks were not disclosed, but in Washington Reagan administration spokesmen welcomed South Africa’s consultation with Western governments and indicated that changes in apartheid were expected soon. In fact, there was increasing speculation that President Botha would announce racial reforms this week, when the ruling National Party holds a political convention in Pietermaritzburg. The reform package, the latest in a series of apartheid changes, may contain laws that would grant citizenship to all South Africans, including blacks living in independent homelands, allow urban blacks to own land and relax influx control laws, which require blacks to carry restrictive travel passes.

The government is clearly committed to easing the impact of apartheid, but it is not prepared to dismantle the apparatus itself. President Botha himself made that clear last week during a brief visit to KwaNdebele, a black homeland north of Pretoria. In a thatched hut on the S.S. Skosana game reserve, Botha lunched with the territory’s chief minister, Simon Skosana, and vowed to maintain South Africa’s system of separate racial and ethnic development despite threats of economic sanctions from abroad.

At the same time, foreign minister Botha (no relation to the president) emerged from his talks in Europe insisting that the U.S. government had not demanded the immediate lifting of the state of emergency. “The Americans have not presented us with an ultimatum,” Botha said. “It is not their style to do so. There is no need. We have never been anything but good friends.” Indeed, South African officials said that they were delighted last week when Reagan told reporters that he did not intend to change his policy of “constructive engagement” with Pretoria. Sanctions, the President added, “would be harmful to blacks in South Africa” and to other black African nations that trade with Pretoria. In response, South’s Africa’s state-owned radio said that the nation had “no more dependable ally” than Ronald Reagan.

Still, Washington officials made clear that they are pressing Botha to act swiftly to end the violence, which has led to almost 500 deaths, almost all of them black, in the past year. Declared state department spokesman Bernard Kalb: “Racial polarization is rising. It is imperative that the South African government and responsible black community leaders take steps to forestall such confrontations.” Added Bishop Tutu: “Un-

less we really get down to the business of talking we are going to have a monumental catastrophe in this country.” The Durban riots added a new and profoundly disturbing dimension to the crisis. Until last week the port city—exempted from the state of emergency —had been relatively quiet. But on Aug. 1, black civil rights lawyer Victoria Mxenge, 43, one of the defence lawyers in the Pietermaritzburg trial, was murdered by other blacks outside her home. Her death—she was shot in the neck, her skull split open by a machete—ignited the brooding unrest in the predominantly Zulu townships outside of Durban. The Zulus resent the more prosperous Indian minority’s control of Durban’s retail trade and view Indians as accomplices of “the system,” because they participate in a two-tier parliament introduced last year for the nation’s Asian and colored—but not black —populations. There is also increasing tension between UDF activists and blacks loyal to Zulu leader Gatsha Buthelezi, chief minister of the KwaZulu tribal homeland, which includes Durban’s black township of Umlazi. At an Umlazi memorial service for Mxenge last week, clashes between the two factions erupted into an orgy of looting and burning that spilled over into nearby Indian townships. Buthelezi, one of only a handful of black leaders publicly opposing economic sanctions, blamed the rioting on infiltrators linked to the ANC, declaring: “It is hogwash to present this kind of political thuggery as the black liberation struggle.”

Then, a new crisis loomed. Beginning on Aug. 25, more than 200,000 coal and gold miners plan to strike at 29 mines across the country, seeking higher wages and a shorter work week. Gold accounts for half of South Africa’s foreign currency earnings, and a prolonged strike, analysts say, could deal a powerful blow to an already debt-burdened economy. Last May another strike was broken when one mining company fired 14,000 employees. But now, said the union’s general secretary, Cyril Ramaphosa, “We have serious doubts that the industry will commit suicide by dismissing 200,000 miners.”

Botha’s room to manoeuvre is severely limited. He can extend the state of emergency, risking more violence, or for the first time announce concessions under pressure, risking accelerated demands for even more compromise. Still, only a conciliatory approach offers the chance of defusing the crisis. Choosing that course could mark a historic turning point in Pretoria’s relations with blacks—and perhaps alter the course of South Africa’s development forever.