South Africa Bans Public Protest at Funerals

Times Staff Writer

The South African government on Wednesday closed the last forum that blacks here had for political protest--the funerals of those killed in the continuing unrest.

Gen. Johan Coetzee, the national police commissioner, issued orders banning outdoor funerals and prohibiting speakers other than clergymen--as well as flags, banners, placards, pamphlets and political speeches--at all funerals.

The restrictions, which will apply initially to the 36 cities and towns covered by the 12-day-old state of emergency, drew sharp warnings from anti-apartheid activists, who charged that the move will heighten tension and could result in further bloodshed.


“If funerals are now increasingly controlled or curtailed, black anger will increase,” the Rev. Beyers Naude, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said. “And we fear that a situation may arise where the community, in its frustration, will eventually defy such restrictions, thereby causing more conflict and clashes.”

The Rev. Allan Boesak, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and a patron of the United Democratic Front, a multiracial coalition of anti-apartheid groups, said the restrictions are “sure to cause more confrontation and bloodshed” because blacks will inevitably rebel against them.

Coetzee’s order requires that victims of the continuing strife be buried one at a time, that their funerals be held indoors and that the funeral procession go by car or truck--not by foot--along a route prescribed by police.

The clergyman officiating at the service “shall not in any manner defend, attack, criticize, propagate or discuss any form of government, any principle or policy or a government of a state, any boycott action, the existence of a state of emergency or any action by (the security) force or a member of the force,” the new regulations stipulate. They have the force of law.

Over the last year, funerals for unrest victims have increasingly become anti-government rallies. Often held for four or five people at a time, but sometimes as many as 15, the funerals draw crowds running from 25,000 to more than 60,000. Speakers have included not only clergymen but also student leaders, labor union organizers and others from groups fighting the apartheid system.

Many of the most serious clashes between police and black youths have followed funerals, as thousands of youths poured out of cemeteries--angry and sometimes appearing ready to march on nearby white communities. The youths throw stones at the security forces and are repulsed by volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot.


Calling on the government to review its decision--which senior police sources said might be applied to the whole country if a way can be found--Naude warned: “In the African tradition, funerals are occasions where the whole community freely participates in the expression of its sorrow and sympathy with the bereaved. Any restriction on such expression will be viewed with great displeasure.”

Under South Africa’s severe security laws, virtually all outdoor meetings, aside from religious gatherings and sports events, had been banned, and the indoor meetings of leading anti-apartheid groups are outlawed in most troubled areas.

Explaining the new regulations, police officials said Wednesday that they are eager to “consolidate and strengthen” the enforced calm of the state of emergency.

Only scattered incidents of civil unrest were reported by police headquarters in Pretoria on Wednesday as Le Grange and Coetzee argued that their strategy had begun to restore law and order in most badly troubled areas of the country.

In the most serious incident, a black was shot and killed, a police spokesman said, when officers guarding a fellow policeman’s home fired on a crowd attacking it. This brought to at least 21 the number of people killed since the state of emergency was imposed.

A large bomb exploded at a bakery outside the Indian Ocean port of Durban early Wednesday, causing extensive damage to a flour silo. Although no group claimed responsibility for the blast, it appeared related to a 10-day-old bakers’ strike in the city as this plant continued to operate. Guerrillas of the outlawed African National Congress are active in the area and have planted a number of bombs in recent weeks.


A police spokesman said in Pretoria that 27 more people have been detained without charges under the emergency regulations, bringing to 1,286 the number arrested; only 13 have been released so far.

South Africa’s currency, the rand, continued to suffer from the unsettled political situation Wednesday. The rand, worth $1.35 five years ago, declined by 10% Wednesday morning--dropping to 43.75 cents to the dollar--close to its record low of 41.95 cents in January before it rose to roughly 46 cents.

Bankers attributed the rand’s most recent sharp fall--15% over the last week--to such developments as the French ban on new investment, the prospect of U.S. economic sanctions, South Africa’s threat to expel foreign workers, and general concern about the racial crisis here.