S. Africa opposition party decries permit law

South Africa's main white opposition party, the Progressive Federal Party, is indignant because it is being forced to apply for a permit from local magistrates every time it wishes to hold a political meeting.

This applies not only to open meetings in public halls but also to private-home meetings of party members -- indeed, to any meeting of more than 10 people if it could be considered to be "of a political nature."

The Progressive Federal Party's national director, Neil Ross, describes the permit restriction as arbitrary and as a grave reflection on the state of democracy in South Africa.

The party is involved at present in two by-elections for seats in the South African Parliament. One is in the Johannesburg constituency of Parktown, which it is expected to win fairly easily, probably in a contest with a smaller splinter opposition party called the New Republic Party. The splinter group may withdraw from the contest before voting day.

The other by-election is in the Cape Province constituency of Simonstown, where it is fighting a bitter battle against the ruling National Party.

Polling day for both elections in Sept. 3.

The ban on any political meeting of more than 10 people is the result of a proclamation issued by Minister of the Interior Alwyn Schlebusch under a law called the Riotous Assemblies Act.

This law enables the Cabinet minister to ban any meeting at any time, or impose special restrictions on the organizers.

As a result of a previous ban, no outdoor gatherings, except sports events, may be held anywhere in South Africa, nor can there by any processions, without the minister's consent. But until recently indoor political meetings were freely allowed.

However, Mr. Schlebusch has now banned even these until the end of August, unless he or the chief magistrate in any particular area specifically gives permission.

Although the minister is not required by law to give any explanation for the ban, Mr. Schlebusch has indicated that his intention was to prevent the organizers of the boycott of schools for Colored children (people of mixed race) and a Cape Town bus boycott from holding meetings that might cause "unrest."

But the banning order is so loosely phrased that every political meeting of more than 10 people is affected. Even the conservative, white Cape Town city council felt obliged to apply for a permit to hold its monthly meeting.

Mr. Ross, who personally is directing the Progressives' campaign in Simonstown, said he considers it "ridiculous" for a political party to have to apply for a permit every time it wishes to hold a meeting during the by-election.

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