Black Sash lashes out at S. Africa's 'mere lip service' to race reform

In South Africa, ''Discrimination enjoys constant renewal while real and meaningful change is avoided.''

So says the president of the Black Sash women's organization, one of South Africa's leading human-rights groups.

The assessment, made at the group's recent annual meeting in this windy city, may act to tether rising expectations here. Speculation on the government's intentions on racial reform is rife now that the ruling National Party has just shed its most right-wing faction.

But comparing the government's record on race with its newer reformist-sounding pronouncements dispels any notion that the government is serious about reforming South Africa's apartheid system of racial separation, says Joyce Harris, Black Sash president.

Surveying what she sees as the highlights of government activity over the past year, Mrs. Harris says, ''The direction is always the same, toward more and more restrictions and less and less freedom.''

Particularly disturbing to Mrs. Harris is what she sees as a growing tendency on the part of white South Africans to accept rhetorical lip service to reform by the government, while they ''close their eyes to the deeds.''

The deeds she finds disturbing over the past year:

* The government's homeland policy picked up speed when the tribal state of Ciskei became what Pretoria calls an independent homeland. It is the fourth such homeland.

Blacks, she notes, lose their South African citizenship when their state is designated as a homeland. With Ciskei's independence, the number of blacks losing South African citizenship rose to 9 million.

In Mrs. Harris's view, the homelands ''remain poor, nonviable, overcrowded, lacking in infrastructure, dumping grounds for the surplus people -- the old, the young, women . . . who are not needed in the white economy.''

Under government policy, all blacks are connected by language to so-called homelands, regardless of where they live. They become citizens of the new states.

* Thousands more black families are scheduled to be uprooted under the homelands policy. They will be moved from newly designated white land to generally remote rural reserves.

Mrs. Harris says the cost of the resettlement policy -- $592 million in land purchases so far -- shows the government's ''determination to press ahead with its ideological aims'' of separating the races.

* The government has been rigidly enforcing influx control laws to keep blacks in the homelands and out of cities.

During the first six months of 1981, 38,468 blacks were arrested for violating pass laws, which strictly govern their movement in white areas, Mrs. Harris says.

The emerging government policy, according to Black Sash, is to reserve jobs for urban blacks. Recruitment of blacks from the rural homelands, where unemployment is rising, is being deliberately reduced.

* Authorities have been stringently applying the Group Areas Act, which segregates housing and commerce in South Africa according to race. Thousands of families are still to be moved, even though many either do not want to move or cannot find suitable new housing.

* Since the latter part of 1981 there has been a ''heavy clampdown'' in security detentions.

In February, white labor union official Neil Aggett died in police detention, where he had been held since November without charges.

''The people have lost all confidence that justice will be done, because in security matters it is not seen to be done,'' says Mrs. Harris.

The government's Rabie Commission on security legislation has recommended adding two crimes - ''subversion'' and ''incitement'' - to what Mrs. Harris calls an already ''daunting list'' of security laws. But some proposed restrictions on detentions and bannings practices ''were totally inadequate,'' she says.

* The government is considering a further clampdown on the press. A commission has suggested registering journalists, whom Mrs. Harris feels are already overrestricted in doing their jobs.

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