In formally assuming emergency powers, South Africa's government has given credence to the claim that the black townships were becoming ungovernable, the stated goal of the outlawed African National Congress. The government's declaration of a state of emergency is in direct response to violence that has been erupting in the black townships for the 10 months and has claimed an estimated 500 lives.
Security forces were granted Draconian powers of search and arrest in 36 districts under a special proclamation signed Saturday by President P. W. Botha.
Permitted under the Public Security Act of 1953, the emergency powers include arrest without warrant, and detention for two weeks. Those detained may not be contacted by anyone, including lawyers, except with the permission of Law and Order Minister Louis Le Grange or the police commissioner.
A member of the security forces can order anyone to move to another area and use force if they do not do so immediately. Also security forces can search any building or vehicle. Police are allowed unlimited powers, which can be invoked by a simple oral statement, to issue orders on anything needed to maintain public order.
The proclamation also empowers the commissioner of police to take steps to exercise almost total control over reporting on unrest and to impose curfews in black townships.
Police said that they had arrested 113 people on the first day of the emergency. Meetings with newspaper editors have been scheduled for today to discuss the rules governing press coverage.
In his statement justifying the decision to declare a state of emergency, Mr. Botha said, ``The acts of violence and thuggery [in the townships] are directed mainly at the property and persons of law-abiding black people. . . . I cannot ignore the insistence of all responsible South Africans, especially the majority of the black communities, who ask for conditions to be normalized and to be granted the full protection of the law to continue their normal way of life.''
According to Prof. John Dugard, director of the Center for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, the government already possesses under existing laws nearly all the powers it has assumed by declaring a state of emergency.
But, Professor Dugard contends, the government was inhibited in the exercise of existing powers by Western embassies, notably that of the United States, which carefully monitored the use of the arbitrary power to detain or ban and made objections known through diplomatic channels.
By instituting the declaration, Dugard argues, the government has pyschologically cleared the way for the exercise of powers it already possesses under statutory law. ``By declaring a state of emergency, Mr. Botha has served notice on the West that he intends to exercise these powers,'' Dugard added.
As examples of statutory poweres already reserved by the state professor Dugard cited the following: the power to detain people with out trial and to ban meetings, individuals, and organizations under the Internal Security Act; the power to prohibit publication of information under the Protection of Information Act.
While the sweeping powers of the police and defense acts already severely restrict reporting of police and military activities in the townships, the government can already impose curfews there under the Black Urban Areas Consolidation Act.
It can, as it did after the 1976-77 rebellion in black townships, grant indemnity to security force men retroactively.
Although the affected districts cover less than one-third of South Africa's geographical area, they include the densely populated area surrounding Johannesburg, the city of Port Elizabeth, and the eastern Cape Province, all of which have been focal points of unrest.
In Lingelihle in the eastern Cape the declaration was greeted with defiance by the more than 25,000 blacks attending the funeral of four black leaders who were murdered three weeks ago. According to the United Democratic Front (UDF), a multiracial alliance opposing apartheid, they were killed by South African police or police agents.
The mood at the funeral was symbolized by the presence of two huge red flags, proclaiming the presence of the outlawed South African communist party and the support of the Soviet Union for their struggle. Alongside the red flags was the black, green, and gold banner of the banned African National Congress.
With the crowd chanting its approval, UDF leader Stone Sizane said, ``The government has declared a state of emergency because they want to hide something. The oppressed people are the enemies of the state. The whole of the eastern Cape is in flames.''
Referring to the unsolved killing and disappearance of black leaders -- and amid cries of ``viva'' from the crowd -- Mr. Sizane said, ``There is a state of terrorism in South Africa.''
Beyers Naude, the rebel Afrikaner clergyman and secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches, said that a state of emergency cannot solve anything. ``There can be no solution unless the doors of the jails are opened and political prisoners released unconditionally,'' he said.
Carried shoulder high to the speakers' platform, Dr. Naude addressed himself directly to his fellow Afrikaner, President Botha: ``Before the whole country goes up in flames, hear the cries for peace and justice in our land.'' Later he labeled Botha's emergency declaration ``a desperate bid to stem the tide of liberation.''
Later the crowd marched to the nearby graveyard. A phalanx of priests, including Archbishop Bruce Evans of the Anglican Church, were positioned between the banners of the African National Congress and the communist party.
Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, leader of the opposition in the white chamber of South Africa's tri-racial parliament, responded to the declaration by saying, ``What was supposed to be the beginning of an era of negotiation and consensus politics has seen us drift steadily into the present state of semi-siege.''
The government had ``neither the ability, the plans, nor the talent to cope with the demands of geniune reform'' and had only exhibited a ``dogged determination'' to impose its constitutional plans on others, he said.
South Africa's last use of emergency powers was following the Sharpeville shootings in 1960 when 69 black demonstrators were killed.