Forced calm in S. Africa -- eye of the storm? Pretoria appears to win major test of strength against blacks
Johannesburg — South African police, troops, and a new, overnight clampdown on news reporting seem to have ensured quiet during yesterday's potentially explosive anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising. At time of writing early last evening, it appeared that the South African government had won its first major test of strength against black opponents since declaring a nationwide state of emergency last Thursday.
One Soweto resident said it appeared the government's emergency proclamation, and the accompanying arrest of hundreds of anti-apartheid leaders, had at least temporarily sowed alarm and confusion among politically active blacks. This has resulted in ``a period, I think, of reflection,'' he said.
He added, however, that it was too early to gauge the long-term effect on the political violence that has beset South Africa for the past 21 months.
The government clearly took heart in the apparent absence of serious violence and restated its resolve ``to end this unrest in certain riot-torn areas.''
Hundreds of thousands of blacks did, however, defy the government by staging a work stay-away on the Soweto anniversary, emptying downtown Johannesburg and other cities of their usual throngs of black commuters.
Brief church services were held in Soweto and other black townships nationwide. But a number of planned demonstrations were canceled, or fizzled, under pressure from the government's emergency crackdown.
Most blacks stayed inside their houses. Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu preached in a downtown Johannesburg cathedral, though media curbs prevented journalists from reporting most of what he said.
Under new restrictions issued before dawn Monday, journalists could neither enter any black township nor make any reference in print to the activities of police or troops, other than that provided at daily Information Ministry briefings.
A separate overnight message to foreign reporters from the deputy minister for information, Louis Nel, reiterated a ban on reporting any remark ``which in terms of the emergency regulation [is] a `subversive statement.' ''
Later, Mr. Nel criticized a newsman from Britain's Reuters news agency for what was termed biased phrasing in a recent report -- citing a reference to the state of emergency as ``draconian'' and to South Africa as ``riot-torn.''
Nel added: ``I have given instructions to the Bureau of Information to monitor very carefully media reports in this regard.''
At the ministry's daily briefing late yesterday morning, an official said he was ``grateful to report'' that there had been no unrest in the period since sunup and that ``the planned violence which certain radical elements had in mind has not materialized.'' He said 8 blacks had, however, been killed in the previous 24 hours: 5 by rival blacks and 3 by police or troops.
He atttributed the anniversary calm to the ability of ``the security forces to enforce law and order.''
``The police and security forces are on standby and are on patrol at every possible place where trouble could be expected . . . anywhere in the country,'' the official added. ``There is a strong presence of security forces out all over South Africa.''
Sources reached by telephone Monday afternoon said that in at least two black townships, Alexandra on the fringe of Johannesburg and Mamelodi near Pretoria, the anniversary was passing without violence. A source in Soweto said, ``At least in our area it is calm,'' though he could not speak for the rest of the sprawling township.
Bishop Tutu spoke to a mixed-race congregation of about 150 in the fieldstone St. Mary's Cathedral, saying, ``Most blacks don't want violence. . . . We have some truly wonderful people, black and white, in this country.''
Most of the rest of his address, lawyers suggested, could not be reported without risking possible violation of the following clauses included in the emergency's definition of subversion:
Promoting any object of any organization which has, under any law, been declared to be an unlawful organization.
Inciting . . . any category of persons to discredit or undermine the system of compulsory military service.
Inciting the public, or any section of the public, or any person or category of persons to resist or oppose the Government, or any Minister or official of the Republic, or any member of a [security] force, in connection with any measure adopted in terms of any of these [emergency] regulations. . .
Weakning or undermining the confidence of the public . . . in the termination of the state of emergency, or encouraging the public or any section of the public to commit any act or omission which endangers or may endanger the safety of the public, the public order, or the termination of the state of emergency.
Other church services held in black areas were off limits to reporters. But one clergyman, queried Sunday for a preview of his sermon, said he had written it around the stipulations in the ``subversion'' ban.
His text, he said, would be biblical: ``I am going to tell of the Jews' escape from bondage.''