There are fears that the South African government will increasingly use stringent emergency regulations to restrict news coverage of the country's continuing racial violence. One of the largest pro-government weeklies, Rapport,quoting unnamed ``high-ranking police sources,'' predicted under Page 1 headlines yesterday, that overseas news-media representatives will be ``brought under control'' within a few weeks.
The emergency regulations were used this weekend for the first time to ban all journalists -- local and foreign -- and television crews, from the black township of Soweto near Johannesburg. On Saturday police arrested 19 white and two back women for demonstratiing outside a police station. Reporters covering the demonstration were escorted out of Soweto, and some photographers had their film confiscated.
A report in the Afrikaans-language Rapport claimed that journalists have been fooled by ``propaganda'' from the outlawed black African National Congress, and were propagating a ``false image'' of what is going on in South Africa.
If this has not happened, the unrest would have ended long ago, the report said. Rapport's sources said ``strong measures'' would be used against the ``antagonistic journalists.''
It is widely acknowledged that the South African government has been embarrassed by television and newspaper reports overseas of police action in the black townships.
These police actions, many residents and observers say, have radicalized ordinary citizens, inflamed political passions, and often increased the cycle of violence rather than reducing it. More than 780 people, mostly black, have been killed in the past 20 months, as protests have increased against apartheid, South Africa's policy of strict racial separation.
During anti-apartheid demonstrations last week in the center of Cape Town, the country's legislative capital, members of the police riot squad showed obvious antagonism toward journalists. Several photographers and members of television teams were beaten with whips. Some were temporarily detained. One photographer who ran into a building was told he would be arrested if he set foot in the street again.
On Friday, President Pieter W. Botha extended the state of emergency to Cape Town and seven surrounding districts. Under emergency regulations, the security forces have virtually unlimited powers of arrest, search, and interrogation.
The decision to extend the emergency regulations came only two days after he lifted similar regulations in six of the 36 areas declared emergency areas on July 20. There were some hopes that this indicated a softening of the government's stance, but President Botha warned at the time that he would extend the emergency orders ``if there is disorder.''
The Cape Town demonstration last week could have influenced Botha's decision to impose the regulations there. There was bitter cricitism of the police by members of the public who saw the riot squad running down streets, hitting out left and right. White opposition and black anti-apartheid groups condemned the extension of the emergency and the press blackout on Soweto.
Several opposition political spokesmen have warned that the emergency regulations could be used to muzzle the media and limit the public's right to know what is really going on.
The regulations could be used in future to ``control, regulate, or prohibit . . . any comment on, or news in connection with . . . the conduct of any member of the security forces,'' said one observer.
Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, the leader of the Progressive Federal Party, the largest white opposition political party, said he the extension of the emergency regulations to the area around Cape Town was a ``depressing and distressing development.''
Dr. Slabbert, who lives in Cape Town, said a major feature of the regulations concerned the availability and reliability of information, and he warned this could lead to ``rumor mongering.''
Other spokesmen criticized the local government-controlled television service which they said was already limiting the public's knowledge of affairs in the townships through its rigorous self-censorship. It would be serious if newspapers were also further restricted they said.
The only mixed-race member of the South African Cabinet, the Rev. Allan Hendrickse, who leads the mixed-race Labour Party, said it was ``regretable'' that the emergency regulations had been extended to Cape Town. But he added that he had no doubt that the continuing escalation of violence in the area and the ``growing fanatacism'' among demonstrators had obliged Botha to extend the emergency regulations.
Just before the weekend emergency proclamation, there were dawn raids last Friday on dozens of anti-apartheid activists, including churchmen, teachers, and members of the United Democratic Front, an organization with about 600 affiliated groups.
It is not clear exactly how many have been arrested, and the police will not say, ``because this is a security matter.'' But it seems about 50 people from Cape Town are being held.