After listening to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's criticism of their apartheid policies of racial segregation for nearly a week, South Africans on Thursday began to hit back, making Kennedy's visit for the moment nearly as live an issue in day-to-day South African debates as apartheid itself.
In the course of 24 hours, the Massachusetts Democrat found himself embroiled in disputes with Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha, Zulu chief Gatsha Buthelezi, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the pioneer heart-transplant surgeon, Cape Town's liberal white mayor and local government administrators of black areas he visited.
There were also demonstrations Thursday by black militants from the Azanian People's Organization, which wants Kennedy to go home, and by Buthelezi's own Inkatha political movement, which opposes any economic sanctions against South Africa over apartheid.
In addition, editorial writers in both the English-language and more conservative Afrikaans press sharpened their criticism of Kennedy, questioning his motives for the eight-day visit and arguing that his own personal flaws disqualify him from passing moral judgment on anyone else.
"We must be getting to them," a Kennedy aide said, scanning the angry newspaper editorials on the senator's visit. "They are starting to play rough. Well, we can too."
Kennedy then issued a statement replying to Botha's attack and another statement criticizing Buthelezi. To Barnard's challenge for a television debate over health care for the poor here and in the United States, Kennedy suggested that he debate a black physician instead. And at the Crossroads squatter camp here, Kennedy used the skills honed in Senate debates and committee hearings to grill an official on the government's policies.
"Having seen conditions here, I can understand why Foreign Minister Botha has launched an irrelevant and untrue attack on the United States, rather than discussing the problems of South Africa and the policies of his own government," Kennedy declared, responding to Botha's suggestion that American problems are worse than those here.
At the Crossroads camp, a squalid shantytown of shacks made from plywood, plastic sheeting, cardboard and occasional corrugated metal, Kennedy demanded of Timo Bezuidenhout, the commissioner in charge of the region's black townships, what the government is doing to improve the settlement, which most of its 70,000 residents do not want to leave for new housing in a more remote location.
As Bezuidenhout, flustered at Kennedy's public interrogation, hemmed and hawed, the senator demanded, "What are you going to do? Don't the people have the right to know?"
The official eventually stammered out a reply that the government would attempt to persuade the Crossroads residents to move to the new location.
Kennedy plans a major speech to anti-apartheid activists in Cape Town this evening, and the government is braced for further attacks from the senator.
But Kennedy has drawn increasing criticism himself from both the white and black communities, and from the political left as well as the right.
'Kennedy Go Home!' When he arrived Thursday in Cape Town, demonstrators from the Azanian People's Organization and from the Cape Action League, another militant "black consciousness" organization, shouted "Kennedy go home!" and "Down with American imperialism!"
After five minutes, police broke up the protest, tearing up demonstrators' signs and leading them away from the airport road. It was the fourth demonstration against Kennedy by black activists during his visit.
Kennedy's dispute with Buthelezi, chief minister of the Kwa-Zulu homeland as well as a hereditary chief of the Zulus, South Africa's largest black tribe, stemmed from calls by other black leaders for American sanctions against South Africa--moves that Buthelezi denounces as "madness," harmful only to blacks and ultimately ineffective.
"The outrages of apartheid should be enough to unite its opponents in a common cause," Kennedy replied, rejecting Buthelezi's criticism of other black leaders, including his hosts here.
Kennedy aides appeared startled by the complexity of South African politics, black as well as white, and the senator's visit has probably heightened rivalries among blacks and antagonized many liberal and moderate whites otherwise sympathetic to reform.
One of the strongest attacks on Kennedy so far came Thursday in the respected, middle-of-the-road weekly magazine Financial Mail, which described Kennedy in an editorial as a waverer on many issues and certainly not in a position to preach to South Africa.