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Pretoria renews state of emergency. Botha clamps down on eve of anniversary of Soweto revolt

By Ned TemkoStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 13, 1986

Soweto, South Africa

Pretoria yesterday launched its toughest crackdown yet on the ongoing violence that has swept South Africa since late 1984. A nationwide ``state of emergency'' was declared at noon. It gave the authorities nearly unlimited powers to censor the press and to search, seize, arrest, and imprison persons deemed a threat to state security. The declaration was made retroactive to midnight, when police had begun detaining hundreds of anti-apartheid activists.

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The immediate catalyst for the move, which was condemned by the Reagan administration and which came in defiance of escalating calls by the West for economic sanctions, is the approach of the June 16 anniversary of Soweto's 1976 revolt. That revolt was in many ways different from the current uprising, but many blacks see a connection.

``Our uprising here in 1976 was like a volcano. That is the reason for the white government's problems now! After a volcano, the political landscape can never be the same again,'' said one black man Thursday.

The authorities last week issued a ban on meetings commemorating the black uprising during which some 575 people were killed. But their ban was met by vows from black leaders to go ahead with such meetings.

The government also tried, but failed, to rush through new security legislation giving police broader powers to detain people without trial and to limit reporters' access to areas of unrest.

The police chief of Soweto said he would use his new state-of-emergency powers to bar reporters from the township on Monday, the anniversary date.

President Pieter W. Botha told a nationwide television audience late yesterday that he had imposed the state of emergency to head off the threat of ``large-scale unrest'' on the Soweto anniversary and an eventual takeover bid by what he called pro-Moscow ``revolutionaries.'' Mr. Botha said he was aware that the move would provoke ``punitive action'' from abroad. But he felt compelled to ``keep his country from becoming a Vietnam, Nicaragua, Kampuchea [Cambodia], Afghanistan, or Iran.''

It was in 1976, when Soweto students rebelled over the white-minority government's education policy, that South Africa faced its first sustained round of anti-apartheid violence. It lasted nearly a year, claimed nearly 600 lives, but wound down under the joint pressure of arrests, police reprisal, and inertia.

``Even we were surprised by the scale and duration of the uprising,'' says one black community leader in Soweto, who began his political career in 1976. ``I think one reason the violence ended is that it was that even we felt the need to catch our breath, evaluate.'' That, he says, ``is much less the case in the current uprising.''

Many 1976 leaders have matured, mellowed, married, and had children. According to one of them, ``I'm sometimes scared, frankly, by the new militancy that has taken hold.'' He and other political analysts here note differences between the 1976 trouble and the escalating violence of the past 21 months.

One difference is that the 1976 violence was essentially a student revolt. Its battle cry was ``black consciousness'' -- the aim to win blacks a place in a political, economic, and social system that excluded them.