Political protest sours South Africa festivities

Political dissatisfaction among blacks and disunity among South Africa's various racial and language groups generally is tending to sour the festivities arranged by the government to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the South African Republic.

Before May 1961, South Africa was a self-governing dominion inside the British Commonwealth, rather like Canada and Australia are today, and recognized the British monarch as its titular head.

The decision to become a republic was taken after a referendum of whites showed a slender majority favored this, the Afrikaners generally voting for it and the English-speaking whites against.

The festivities arranged nationwide this year were supposed to demonstrate national unity and enthusiasm for the republic, which marks its national day May 31. They culminate in massive displays by the Army next weekend in the east coast holiday city of Durban.

Instead the festivities have been marred by a series of sabotage attacks by black nationalist guerrillas including the blowing up of railway lines near Johannesburg and outside Durban.

Blacks generally are boycotting the affair, and so are many whites, as a matter of principle. And, instead of celebrating, some major churches have urged their members to join in prayers for a new, more enlightened political dispensation that would recognize the legitimate rights of all people of all races in South Africa.

There are also signs that there could be strikes and other demonstrations by blacks as part of a political protest at their exclusion from the present political system.

In the eastern Cape Province City of Port Elizabeth, the country's mini-Detroit motor center, several thousand black workers are out on strike already and the situation in the black townships there is "tense."

Pamphlets have been distributed calling for a general strike in the area this week and for a schools' boycott in the area.

Pamphlets calling for boycotts have been distributed as well in the sprawling black township of Soweto, near Johannesburg, the country's biggest and richest city.

Apart from opposition to the republic festival program -- which has been running for several weeks at venues all around the country -- black dissatisfaction was increased by racist speeches made by certain right-wing candidates during last month's all-white general election.

This is also a time of year when black tensions tend to increase as various groups prepare to mark the anniversary of the start of the Soweto school unrest on June 16, 1976. This led to full-scale rioting that year all around South Africa. Hundreds died and the damage from arson amounted to millions of rands.

The latest to disassociate itself formally from the republic festival is the Roman Catholic Church. In a letter read in all Catholic churches, Owen Cardinal McAnn, Archbishop of Cape Town, said that the church is not taking part in the festival "because the bishops believe that the vast majority of our people are not participating and generally do not wish to do so. . . . They are deprived and oppressed and have no meaningful say in the government, nor full citizenship in this, the land of their birth.

"However, we have a solemn duty to pray for our country and its people, that love, justice, and peace may be attained."

Even more striking is this extract from Amos in the Old Testament, which is being circulated with copies of the cardinal's letter.

It says, "I hate and despise your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals.

"When you offer me holocausts, I reject your oblations, and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle.

"Let me have no more of the din of your chanting, no more of your strumming harps.

"But let justice flow like water, and integrity like an unfailing stream."

The government is very sensitive about the fact that many people and large organizations are purposely boycotting the festival, thus turning it more and more into a Nationalist Party political, Afrikaner affair than a truly national celebration.

Some members of the government have even described "boycotters" as being among the "enemies of South Africa."

In an interview with the country's biggest Afrikaans newspaper, the Sunday Rapport, the head of the Security Police, Brig. J. A. du Preez, said the police are "standing by to cope with any e ventuality."

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