The South African government's plan for encouraging the country's troubled black townships to police themselves is moving ahead rapidly. The government authorized local black police forces last October in the wake of the violent black unrest. Already 16 (or about half) of South Africa's local black town councils are preparing to set up their own law enforcement units.
The move is not an altogether popular one among blacks. The town councils themselves are seen by many blacks as collaborators with Pretoria. Many blacks warn that giving these town councils their own police forces will only spark greater violence within the black communities.
``I think this step is going to provoke more direct confrontation'' in the townships, says Patric Lekota of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
The UDF says the town councils were clearly rejected by blacks in late 1983 when only about 20 percent of the eligible black voters participated in the town council elections countrywide.
During last year's black unrest the homes of black councilors were frequently attacked and several councilors were killed by angry mobs. After the unrest, there were numerous resignations of black local officials.
But Pretoria has not wavered in its commitment to the local councils and its apparent strategy of trying to distance itself -- while never losing ultimate control -- from the day-to-day administration of the poor, segregated black urban communities. Soweto, the country's largest black township, will start training its own police force next month.
At present the townships are policed by the South African police and agents of the Department of Cooperation and Development, the central government department that administers black affairs.
Since last year's township unrest, the South African Defense Force has also taken on a greater role in policing the townships.
The new local police forces will be able to assume most all the functions now performed by the South African police and the government agents.
A spokesman for the Department of Cooperation and Development said, however, that the South African police would almost certainly get involved in the event of unrest.
Some analysts believe the move to establish local police units is in preparation for the increasingly unpopular work the town councils must perform. With no tax bases to speak of, the black town councils must raise revenues by raising rents and service fees.
Last year's black unrest was provoked in part by the raising of rents. A number of town councils have repeatedly postponed raising rents and fees for fear such steps would also spark unrest in their communities.
But the government is insisting that the black townships pay their own way, so sooner or later the town councils will have to go ahead with the rent and fee increases.
Lekota feels the rapid establishment of the police units is in part aimed at stiffening the resolve of the town councils to go ahead with these unpopular economic actions.
Like many of the institutions created by Pretoria for blacks, the town councils are rejected in part because blacks feel they had no say in their establishment. The town councils are seen by blacks as serving Pretoria's interests, not those of the black communities.