Pretoria's unwanted booms. Jitters among South African whites help boost handgun sales and international-moving business
Johannesburg — South Africa's recession-weary government is hoping its state of emergency will end at least two economic booms that it can do without. During the turbulent months before the June 12 crackdown, jitters among the country's white minority helped send private gun sales and the international-moving business soaring. Gun purchases spurted, particularly during the first part of June -- ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising.
Many people feared that this year's memorial services held for blacks killed during that uprising would bring more explosive violence.
In fact, the government, in announcing the state of emergency, cited what it termed plans for widespread political unrest on the June 16 ``Soweto day.''
The state of emergency, officials say, has already begun to restore confidence, order, and stability -- commodities that might put businesses such as gun-sales and household-shipping in the red. Officials reported 11 deaths in political violence on this year's Soweto anniversary, one of the highest daily tolls for weeks. But the officials stressed that these deaths had come in scattered incidents of violence and said the security clampdown had prevented any major upheaval.
The minister of law and order, Louis Le Grange, said at a political meeting Wednesday night that the authorities were not going to lift the emergency until its aims had been achieved. An earlier, more limited, state of emergency begun in July of 1985 was lifted in March.
``We are determined,'' Mr. Le Grange said, ``to apply all aspects of the regulations and are not prepared to negotiate with any hostile forces.''
Yesterday, the government Bureau for Information said five people had died in political violence during the previous 24 hours.
Nicholas Yale, one of Johannesburg's top arms wholesalers, says it is too early to determine the effect of the emergency on the handgun boom his business has experienced.
``It is difficult to tell how great the demand for arms is: My stock ran out in the first part of June,'' says Mr. Yale.
The moving companies say business is still brisk, but it is too early to determine whether it may finally start to taper off.
``As of now, what is clear is that it has been building gradually since about a year ago,'' says a consultant at a major moving firm serving the city's opulent white suburbs.
``Between January and the end of May, the monthly number of containers we shipped rose 23 percent.'' The consultant says it has amounted to ``an exodus.''
The company, she says, is still giving a brisk 15 estimates to potential emigrants each day. They are, she adds, ``mostly well-established families who want very much to stay, and who approach us heartbroken.''
And she adds that she, for one, will be only too glad to see the rest of the economy revive from its five-year slump and have her company lapse into recession. ``It has been sad to see these people go.''
The fate of various other booms, or boomlets, in the weeks ahead is also likely to provide an index of the white population's response to the crackdown. Along with rising gun sales, a slew of ``security'' companies have prospered during the 21 months of black political unrest that preceded the current emergency proclamation. Some sell truncheons and chemical sprays.
Other companies peddle alarm systems and remote-control gates. Still others -- including one promoting ``immediate armed reponse'' -- run nighttime burglary patrols in white neighborhoods.
And one real estate agent says she's met a number of people hoping to move from large estates in the far-northern suburbs into smaller homes closer to town: ``They say they can't afford the expense of security fencing and the like for such large homes.''
Amid the media restrictions accompanying the state of emergency, some suburban shops also report an increase in sales of shortwave radios. At least some buyers are seeking access to foreign radio-news broadcasts such as London's BBC or the Voice of America -- apparently unaware that foreign reporters, too, are subject to the emergency rules. The rules include detailed curbs on what can and cannot be reported.
But the newshounds are not the only cause of this boomlet: Many buyers seemed to crave play-by-play contact with the World Cup soccer tournament in Mexico.
Amid increasingly vocal opposition to the South African government from abroad, the country was denied access to television feeds of the tournament.