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Black Sash hits shortcomings of S. Africa regime

By Gary ThatcherStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / March 19, 1981



Grahamstown, South Africa

The "maintenance of white power and supremacy" remains the goal of the South African government. Tp that end, it is speaking of reformist intentions, while in fact cracking down harder on most forms of dissent and opposition.

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That is the somber message emanating from this small South African university town, where the Black Sash women's organization -- one of this country's most respected human-rights groups -- has just concluded its annual national conference.

Dark-haired Joyce Harris, the organization's national president, warned that "whites in this country are living in a fools' paradise," deluding themselves into believing "liberal- sounding rhetoric." Instead, she added, "Everywhere there has been an actual or intended tightening up process, in justice, in the press, in trade unions, in education, in the constitution, in population control." *TThe evidence, according to Mrs. Harris:

* During 1980, at least 956 people were detained by South African security police, including 341 pupils, 32 academics, 67 political leaders, 21 trade unionists, and 10 journalists.

* Some 150 people are currently being held under various laws that provide for detention without trial.

* During the last financial year, the government spent over $1.4 billion furthering its plans for separation of the races, including the uprooting and relocation of some 4,800 black people from South Africa's cities to impoverished rural tribal reserves.

* In Johannesburg alone, nearly 36,000 black people were tried for transgressions of the country's so-called "pass laws," which allow the government wide control over virtually every facet of black peoples' lives.

* The government continues to insist on racially segregated neighborhoods, and regularly ejects other race groups from "white" areas. In the area around Cape Town, a reported 3,300 Coloured (mixed race) families are under the threat of eviction.

* Over the last year, the government has tightened up its control over the press, further circumscribing newspapers' rights to publish information about police activity and guerrilla attacks. In addition, it banned further publication of two black newspapers.

* The government also abolished one house of the national legislature, removing a check on the already powerful House of Assembly. Further, it instituted a system of appointing, rather than electing, certain members of the House. Mrs. Harris terms this "a blow [to] democratic government . . . which could eventually prove to be fatal."

Another Black Sash official, Mrs. Sheena Duncan, warned that the government is attempting to extend its control over the population by instituting a compulsory fingerprinting system for whites, Coloureds, and Asians. (There already is a separate system for blacks.) Through the use of a computerized data blank, Mrs. Duncan says, the state can easily invade individual privacy and restrict individual movements.

The legislation setting up this system provides for random police identity checks, she adds, terming the government's support of such measures "reminiscent of the ordinances and decrees of the world's most authoritarian and oppresive dictatorships."

South African government oficials defend the mo ves, arguing they are needed to help combat terrorism here.