S. Africa to ease black curbs? Blacks doubt it

A South African government Cabinet minister has quoted Abraham Lincoln -- the "great emancipator" of black American slaves -- in outlining a what is called a "new dispensation" for black people in this country.

But several black leaders have denounced the move as more government doublespeak, and argue that the terms of their servitude in this white-rule country remain fundamentally unaltered.

Pieter Koornhoff, the government minister of cooperation and development, says a number of new proposals to be put before the South African Parliament will place many black people "on a par with white people."

Other critics charge, however, that governmental control over the lives of some black people actually will be tightened under the new legislation.

The draft legislation generally is in keeping with the South African government strategy of creating a relatively privileged black middle class around this country's urban areas, to act as a buffer between the ruling whites and blacks in impoverished rural tribal reserves.

To do this, the government apparently is planning to curb random police checks of black people's identity documents. At present, blacks whose "pass books" do not carry proper endorsements showing they have official permission to be in an urban area are subject to arrest, detention, and forced return to the rural tribal reserves. Such police checks are criticized as being among the more humiliating aspects of South Africa's racial laws.

However, the right to stay in cities would still be conditional on having government-approved housing the employment. that, says Shena Duncan, national organizer of the Black Sash, a women's organization, simply means government control over black people moves "from the streets to their homes and their places of employment."

Other proposed changes might make it easier to black families to live together in urban areas. (Currently, black families are often split up when some members fail to obtain permission to live near cities.) Moreover, "influx control" may well be tightened up, making it even harder for people in the tribal reserves to migrate to the cities.

The government's hope, according to some analysts, is to harden divisions between urban and rural blacks and increase teh privileges of black city dwellers. Then, the theory goes, black urbanites, afraid of losing their privileged status, may become politically somnolent.

However, black people in cities will still will be forced to live in racially segregated townships, such as Soweto near Johannesburg -- although other proposed changes in the law may give blacks greater control over local affairs in these townships.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.