South Africa Under Siege

ROBERT MILLER August 5 1985

South Africa Under Siege

ROBERT MILLER August 5 1985

South Africa Under Siege



The arrests, the death toll and the counterdemonstrations mounted steadily last week —and so did the world’s outrage. But the South African government of President Pieter W. Botha pressed ahead relentlessly with its crackdown on black dissidents. Having declared a state of emergency on July 20, Botha appeared determined to break a 10-month cycle of escalating violence among black South Africans increasingly bitter over their lack of political rights and their woeful economic status. Last week security forces swept through 36 townships in Cape Province and the Johannesburg region. Travelling in armored personnel carriers known as “hippos,” police rounded up more than 1,000 opponents of the regime. Altogether, 16 died during the emergency’s first week, the majority killed by police bullets fired into stone-throwing mobs. And although the government remained firmly in control, its already tarnished reputation was shattered abroad and shaken at home. Said the liberal Cape Times newspaper, itself subject to the regime’s oppressive legislation: “The situation is just about as bad as it could be.”

Botha’s decision to impose emergency rule on his turbulent country infuriated much of the world, already in anguish over black Africa’s chronic hunger and grinding debt. And the looming prospect of international sanctions threatened to destabilize further the shaky South African economy, which is languishing in deep recession with an annual inflation rate of 16 per cent and official unemployment standing at 9.8 per cent (an estimated 25 per cent among blacks). But Botha, who acted in the face of nearinsurrection among many of the country’s 20 million blacks, was unrepentant. As a French-led storm of international protest gathered strength (page 22), the South African leader staunchly maintained that he had acted to frustrate a Communist-inspired plot “to disrupt the normal life of black communities.” He added that foreign governments could not dictate “what is in the best interests of the people of South Africa.” Arrests: It was the second formal state of emergency declared in South Africa since the ruling National Party introduced apartheid—the country’s widely reviled system of racial segregation—in 1948. Under its provisions, security forces acquired almost unlimited

powers of search, seizure and arrest. Persons convicted of defying the emergency regulations were subject to 10year prison terms and fines of as much as $13,500. In 1960, 11,500 South Africans were arrested during a 156-day emergency imposed to curtail rioting after the Sharpeville massacre, in which police shot and killed 69 blacks during a demonstration against the country’s notorious pass laws.

Even before Botha’s emergency declaration, South Africa’s security forces operated with draconian powers (page 25). Still, the president’s action dismayed South African churchmen and civil libertarians, as well as members of the United Democratic Front (UDF), an antiapartheid umbrella organization that claims a membership of two million. Said the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee (DPSC), a civil rights group established to monitor detentions under the country’s Internal Security Act: “We fear, and predict, the inevitability of deaths in detention.” Added a distraught Beyers Naude, 69, an Afrikaner who serves as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches: “The awful bloodbath is upon us.”

Although it unleashed a predictable

furore, Botha’s decision amounted to a carefully calculated risk. His intention: to reassure his political supporters among the country’s 4.6-million white minority. In Johannesburg Maclean's has learned that the president decided to take the dramatic step of declaring an emergency shortly after he received results of an opinion poll commissioned by the National Party. The poll showed a sharp rise in dissatisfaction among the government’s Afrikaner supporters, chiefly because of its failure to quell black unrest.

Rising tide: Ironically,

Botha’s government inadvertently helped trigger the crisis last September when it promulgated a new “reformist” constitution that gave limited political power to the country’s colored (mixed race) citizens while still denying the vote to the black majority. Since then more than 450 blacks have died in a rising tide of violence in which dissidents directed much of their wrath against other blacks responsible for administering apartheid at the local level. Mobs have attacked 120 black local councillors, five of them fatally, and fires have levelled 75 of the so-called collaborators’ homes. Throughout the upheaval, at least some whites—including loyal supporters of Botha’s National Party—have viewed the violence as an intolerable challenge to the system that guarantees their comfortable place in

the sun. A 1984 study financed by the Carnegie Corp. of New York found that although most of the country’s blacks subsist under typical Third World conditions, white South Africans enjoy a living standard comparable to that of North Americans and Scandinavians.

Botha also faced criticism from such opponents as Andries P. Treurnicht, leader of the far-right Conservative Party, and Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, head of the opposition Progressive Federal Party. Angered by the constitutional changes, Treurnicht has attacked Botha as a dangerous reformer who is subservient to foreign opinion. Slabbert condemned the state of emergency, declaring, “What was supposed to be the beginning of an era of I negotiation and consensus > politics has seen us drift I steadily into the present I state of semisiege.” z The emergency déclarais tion brought a prompt response from the exiled leadership of the banned African National Congress (ANC), which called upon black South Africans to mount a general uprising against apartheid. In a broadcast from Lusaka, the ANC’S Oliver Tambo urged the spread of demonstrations to the prosperous white-controlled districts, which remained largely insulated from the turmoil. Said Tambo: “All our people must be mobilized.” But the prospect of fullscale revolution—long predicted as

South Africa’s probable fate—remained remote, partly because demonstrators’ sticks and stones were no match for the security forces’ automatic weapons.

Still, the dissidents’ boldness was unprecedented. Just hours before Botha announced emergency rule, mourners at a funeral for four slain activists in the east Cape community of Cradock marched under the black, green and gold colors of the ANC. Others waved the red banners of the outlawed South African Communist Party. And a few carried placards demanding that the ANC’S exiled leadership begin supplying them with weapons, including bazookas and Soviet-built AK-47 assault rifles. Read one placard: “We are ready.”

Rebuke: The acts of defiance imparted a chilling message to whites who later saw the scenes on the state-owned television system, which chose to follow Botha’s announcement with footage of the Cradock funeral. Even more chilling was the same program’s coverage of the savage beating and burning of a black woman suspected of being a police informer. Editors juxtaposed her slaying —in a township 600 miles to the north of Cradock—with pictures of the funeral. But it nevertheless prompted widespread revulsion and led to a stinging rebuke from South Africa’s most prominent civil rights advocate—Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, who denounced such atrocities as damaging to the cause of freedom. “Millions of people support our struggle,” he said, “but when they saw that on television many said, ‘Uhuh, if these people can do things like that, they are not ready for freedom.’ ’’Added

Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his opposition to apartheid: “If that happens again I am going to collect my family and leave this country that I love passionately.”

Crackdown: If only because of his international prominence, Tutu seemed likely to avoid being arrested in the security crackdown. But there was little doubt that Botha is sorely exasperated by Tutu. A commentator on the stateowned radio network, which often reflects government opinion, criticized Tutu, the Council of Churches’ Naude and Rev. Allan Boesak, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, for their support of the dissidents. Among those seized by police were several less prominent clergymen, as well as union leaders, teachers and members of the umbrella UDF organization. Only four of the first 441 arrested were whites. One of the four was civil rights activist Molly Blackburn of Port Elizabeth. She was seized barely an hour before she was scheduled to meet former U.S. secretary of state Cyrus Vance and former defense secretary Robert McNamara, members of a fact-finding panel touring South Africa for the Ford Foundation. Under the emergency regulations all could be detained indefinitely, without access to family or legal counsel. According to the DPSC, at least 12 persons detained under security laws have died since 1977, when the prison death of a chained and beaten Steve Biko, a black activist, provoked an international protest.

Looming in the background of the crisis was the outlawed ANC, the pivotal

force in the black South African nationalist cause. The ANC is supported by most independent black African countries. And its military axm—Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation)—has waged intermittent guerrilla warfare against the Pretoria administration from bases in Zambia and Mozambique. But South Africa’s security forces, the majority of them black, are unarguably better equipped and better trained.

Still, the ANC has mounted a series of sabotage operations against government installations.

Founded in 1912, the ANC was outlawed during the 1960 Sharpeville emergency. Its leader, Nelson Mandela, a former advocate of nonviolence, was convicted of sabotage and jailed for life in 1964. Mandela, who marked his 67th birthday on July 18, remains in custody in Pollsmoor Prison, a modern facility near Cape Town, after having served almost 20 years in the Alcatraz-like maximum security prison on Robben Island. Last week the Pretoria government ignored international demands, including one from British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, for Mandela’s release. In fact, Botha offered to free Mandela in January if he would renounce violence. Mandela declined, in part perhaps because he feared that such a pledge would divide the ANC. Instead, he demanded that Botha legalize the ANC and release other political

prisoners. Mandela’s 23-year-old daughter, Zinzi, told a rally in February: “My father says: T cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.’ ” With support for the ANC building, the Botha government banned a belated celebration of Mandela’s birthday that had been planned for July 28 in a Soweto township stadium. Soweto is the teeming black suburb of Johannesburg where a wave of rioting in 1976 claimed 575 lives. For most of the past 10 months Soweto was relatively calm. But the week before the emergency was declared, the township was rocked by a series of disturbances. The government placed a high priority on maintaining order in Soweto, and last week police distributed pamphlets urging the black pop| ulation to co-operate and ^ denouncing black leaders I “educated by the system g they are now trying to dele stroy.” The pamphlets added: “They are taking away your chances. Go for education. Protect your jobs.”

Downplay: While the regime launched a propaganda drive in the black townships, it also sought to downplay international reaction. Foreign Minister Roelof (“Pik”) Botha, no relation to President Botha, accused the Western media of gullibility in portraying the regime’s opponents as demo-

crats. Instead, he declared, the dissidents were intent on imposing a Marxist regime. Said Botha: “Their objective is to emotionally unite the international community against the government with the aim of the total isolation of South Africa.”

Stung: Later in the week it was clear that Pretoria had been stung by the French decision to halt new investment in South Africa and to recall its ambassador, and a United Nations Security

Council resolution calling for voluntary economic sanctions against Pretoria. Foreign Minister Botha declared, “By withdrawing you make your involvement in a problem less, and you weaken your influence.” The French action —many U.S. and Canadian companies had long since embarked on a South African “disinvestment” program—and

the possibility that other European countries, including Denmark, might follow Paris’s lead, helped to depress gold shares on the Johannesburg stock exchange.

South Africa is the economic superpower of the African continent. It is blessed with vast gold reserves, diamonds, agricultural self-sufficiency, a thriving coaland nuclear-based energy sector and a mature industrial complex. And even though its economy is in the throes of the worst recession in a half-century, it remains one of the world’s richest nations. But according to the Carnegie Corp. study, South Africa’s wealth is increasingly concentrated in white-dominated urban areas at the expense of the black-dominated countryside. Although the study found that many coloreds —and some urban blacks—are prospering along with the whites, the gap between well-to-do and desperately poor is increasing. Said study director Francis Wilson: “A substantial group of blacks has been cut off from access to the economy, and for them life is getting very much harder.”

One result has been that growing economic disparity has helped to foment political unrest which, in turn,has helped to undermine further South Africa’s relations with the rest of the world. And

the current crisis posed a new problem for the regime. The UDF is a loose alliance of more than 600 labor unions, sports and student bodies and church and community organizations. All of them broadly subscribe to a declaration of nonracial ideals called the “Freedom Charter,” drafted by a “Congress of the People” which Mandela’s ANC convened in 1955.

Too many: But the UDF’s lack of structure is part of its strength. During the past eight months the security police have arrested 36 top UDF leaders and charged them with treason. But unlike the incarceration of the ANC leadership 25 years ago, the latest crackdown on the UDF high command has not stopped dissent. Said one UDF leader, who is still at large: “It is like removing a cover and leaving the structure intact.” Dissent is being organized by hundreds of groups in cities and towns throughout the country. To stop it completely, police would have to make a massive number of arrests. And as fast as those leaders could be rounded up, new ones seemed certain to replace them. During demonstrations in the black townships, the young participants have repeated a self-assuring chant: “They may shoot some of us, but they can’t shoot us all—we are too many.” Botha and his police may yet discover that the same attitude is pervasive among South Africa’s community leaders as the security crackdown continues.

-ROBERT MILLER, with ALLISTER SPARKS in Johannesburg and WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington.