South African Coloreds Turn Against Regime : Mixed-Race Citizens Angered at Repression, Feel Government Betrayed Their Trust, Hopes

Times Staff Writer

A year ago, Martin Arendse had hopes that South Africa “was finally coming right.”

With the introduction of a new constitution that brought Coloreds--people of mixed race like himself--as well as Indians into the previously all-white Parliament and into the Cabinet, he thought that South Africa was on the road to real reform.

“We could see apartheid going, the blacks being brought into the political system as we had been, and this beautiful country finally living up to its true potential,” Arendse said the other day, recalling the hopes that not only Coloreds and Indians but also most whites here shared.

“Were we ever wrong! The reforms that we placed so much faith in were one of the biggest political frauds the world has ever seen. We were betrayed by the government and by our own political leaders. And that is why there is hell to pay now. We are seething, simply seething.”

Quivering With Anger

Arendse, a cautious, conservative man of 58, prides himself on being slow to anger and “always open to reason,” but his outrage now is such that he was quivering as he spoke.


What changed his attitude from one of “give it a chance” to hardened opposition to the government and its efforts to incorporate Coloreds and Indians into the new national political structure were the tough police measures taken to curb the demonstrations here in the last two weeks against apartheid, South Africa’s system of racial separation and white-minority rule.

And with this transformation have died the government’s hopes for enlisting the country’s 2.9 million Coloreds as political partners, along with 900,000 Indians, in dealing with black demands for majority rule.

Classified as a separate race under South African law, the Coloreds, about 80% of whom live in Cape province, are mostly descended from European settlers who married the Khoikhois, or Hottentots, and other African peoples here, and from slaves that 17th- and 18th-Century Dutch traders brought from what are now Malaysia and Indonesia.

After methodically excluding the Coloreds from politics under apartheid, President Pieter W. Botha’s ruling National Party sought to bring them back in a year ago, giving them--amid much controversy--their own house in the segregated, tricameral Parliament.

But even those elected a year ago to the House of Delegates no longer speak out to defend their participation in the new political system, and the Rev. Allan Hendrickse, chief Colored minister and a member of the national Cabinet, has virtually disappeared from public view during the unrest here.

“When we saw such naked police brutality, we had to ask ourselves what kind of fascist government we were supporting, what kind of totalitarian state we were living in,” said Ben van der Wyk, a neighbor of Arendse in Mitchell’s Plain, a largely middle-class Colored suburb 15 miles outside Cape Town.

“Here, in our own quiet little street, we saw police and soldiers beating children no more than 12 years old with whips and batons. We saw them deliberately firing tear gas canisters through the windows of houses where there were small children and elderly people. We saw them shooting their rubber bullets and their birdshot at the backs of boys running away and, yes, we even saw them deliberately shoot and kill a boy on the way home from the store on an errand for his granny.”

Virtual Civil War

What angers people here and in the other segregated Colored suburbs around Cape Town is the sudden transformation of their peaceful communities into the newest battlefields of what appears to those in the midst of the conflict to be a virtual civil war.

Although some do blame the highly politicized and increasingly radical Colored youths for provoking the government and police with anti-apartheid protests during the last month, most Coloreds here said that they now see the country’s white regime as responsible for the violence that has exploded around Cape Town during the last two weeks, leaving at least 40 people dead.

Muslims Oppose Regime

“In our mosque, we were divided, almost 50-50, on the government, the reforms, whether to participate and all that,” Ebrahim Kadir, a carpenter from Athlone, another Colored township, said, classifying himself as “one of those who said, ‘Give it a chance,’ even when common sense should have told me not to trust this government.”

“Well, that was a month ago. Today, to a man, from the imam (religious leader) to even those who work for the (apartheid) system itself, we are against this government and, as followers of Islam, many think that we should launch a holy war, a jihad, against apartheid and bring it to an end once and for all.”

Imam Hassan Solomons, a local Muslim leader who has been in hiding from the security police during the recent unrest, sounded a similar note when he told mourners at a funeral last weekend that Islam, which has won many converts among Coloreds in recent years, does not include a belief in the “intrinsic worth” of violent struggle but that change must come quickly, whether peacefully or not.

“We would prefer the way of a peaceful transfer of power to the people of this country,” Solomons said. “But if the door to that is shut and barred in our faces, then we have no choice but to break down the door.”

Thinking Crystallized

The government’s response to the unrest--particularly the tough police action taken against a planned march on Pollsmoor Prison, where jailed black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela is held, and the subsequent crackdown on student protests--crystallized the thinking of many Coloreds, according to Frank van der Horst, president of the anti-apartheid South African Council on Sports.

“Many people in our community have been confused about whether the struggle against apartheid is really our struggle and, because of our history, some have felt greater affinities in terms of language, culture, religion and values with the white Afrikaner than with the black African,” Van der Horst said, referring to the close ties between many Coloreds and the Afrikaner descendants of the Dutch, French and German colonists. “Although it is a false issue, I believe, the question of whether we are white or black has been a difficult one for us. . . .

“The (apartheid) system has tried to divide us, all the better to rule, but instead it has brought us together. When they murder our young people, they are only broadening and deepening the struggle. In Cape Town, the struggle has reached the same proportions as that in the eastern Cape (province) and in the Witwatersrand (east and west of Johannesburg). In the past month, they have broadened this struggle and made it one struggle in every part of South Africa.”

Imam Moulana Faried Esack, chairman of the Call of Islam and a member of the influential Muslim Judicial Council here, described the change this way: “We are basically a conservative people, who respect government, who adhere to the state constitution, who value loyalty as a virtue . . . but whose history has become one of rejection, whose contributions are repaid with betrayal and who have found that, despite some representation in Parliament, we have been excluded from power in this country.

‘Betrayal’ Breeds Anger

“I suppose that is because we have been so loyal in the past, even following the Afrikaners into this new tricameral Parliament, that we are so angry now,” he said. “And I warn you we are very, very angry.”

Another factor in this new anger, according to a prominent Colored political scientist, who asked not to be quoted by name because of “the greatly inflamed environment today,” is what he described as the realization by Colored youths that they would never catch up with whites and have what whites have, because in this racially segregated society they would always be several rungs lower on the social ladder than a white counterpart.

“We often live just across the street from one another in middle-class areas, and you can tell the Colored side from the white just by the quality of the housing, of the landscaping, of the schools our kids go to and their kids go to,” he said. “When you see this discrimination, based solely on the color of our skin, day after day, it is easy to become bitter, and that is what has happened. Coloreds see life as one broken promise after another: white men saying they will help because, after all, we are half white, but then doing nothing.

“Blacks, by way of contrast, know how much better off they are in an urban community than in the rural area they or their parents left; however poor they are, they are still better off than in some tribal homeland like Transkei. What is eating at us are all the taunts, which are implicit in everything, that we should be happy with what we are given because, after all, we may be half white, but we are also half black.”

Emergency Sparked Unrest

Political activists here say that the current unrest began with student protests over the state of emergency declared eight weeks ago by Botha in other parts of the country. It grew as police tried to break a school boycott by Colored students and reached its present level after the Rev. Allan Boesak, a prominent anti-apartheid campaigner from Cape Town’s Colored community, was detained without charge under security laws and the march on Pollsmoor he had organized was broken up by police.

And then came the “battle of Mitchell’s Plain,” when youths here and in other Colored communities took on the police in five days of clashes. Burning barricades of tires, wrecked autos, old furniture and other debris were constructed across the roads. Police patrols were lured into ambushes where they were pelted with rocks and firebombs made from gasoline-filled bottles and lighted newspaper wicks.

Last week, a Colored police detective was killed and another seriously injured when mourners attacked them, shouting “Murderers, murderers,” at the funeral for a Colored man fatally wounded by police in earlier unrest.

Attacks were stepped up at the same time against the Colored politicians elected to the House of Delegates last year. One, a deputy minister, was wounded in a grenade attack in June, and the homes of at least 13 others have been targets for grenade or gasoline-bomb attacks in recent weeks. Many members of the Colored chamber in Parliament are now in hiding, taking long vacations elsewhere in the country; those who remained in their communities bought guns and took special shooting lessons at the South African police pistol range.

Colored Schools Closed

The police responded at first with whips, tear gas and rubber bullets and then with buckshot and automatic rifles. The number of casualties, some of them schoolboys not yet in their teens, increased.

Describing schools and colleges as hotbeds of revolution, the government closed half of the Colored schools in western Cape province early this month. Officials hoped that the students’ parents, regarded as conservative and prizing education, would end what was seen as largely a youthful revolt against authority and that the closure would break the cycle of violence here.

But many community leaders, including school principals, clergy, businessmen and civic association officials, said the parents themselves have been radicalized over the last month, and a general strike called last week by a previously unknown organizing committee was honored by more than two-thirds of Cape Town’s Colored and black workers.

“Everyone knows someone who (has been) whipped or beaten or tear-gassed by the police,” the pastor of a Catholic parish said, “and they were outraged. . . . There are now more than three dozen people dead--and this has radicalized even the most conservative elements of the community.”

Magistrates, Police Resign

Two Colored magistrates in Athlone resigned rather than hear political cases. At least 10 Colored policemen, including three sergeants and two officers, are reported to have quit and a Colored member of the President’s Council and a member of the House of Delegates threatened to resign unless the government acted quickly to end apartheid and abandoned its “divide-and-rule approach” toward the different communities.

Yusuf Rhoda, a member of the small Democratic Workers Party in the House of Delegates, said that he and other Colored politicians “came into the tricameral system with good intentions and trusted the good will of the government, but they have betrayed us. If there is no change,” he said, “the government will be forcing us to resign.”

“The youth of our country is a force to be reckoned with,” Rhoda continued, “and therefore they cannot be only seen as stone throwers and revolutionaries. . . . The youth are organized now, whether we want to recognize it or not, and their grievances have to be addressed.”

Those grievances start with apartheid, which Coloreds have come to see as oppressing them nearly as much as blacks, although they are not subject to the same restrictions. The grievances also include issues such as widespread unemployment, inferior education, poor housing, crime and, in the words of a schoolteacher here, “all the problems that come with being second- or third-class citizens and that can only be solved by becoming the masters of our own country.”

Jakes Gerwel, the rector-elect of the University of the Western Cape, a predominantly Colored school outside Cape Town, observed last week:

“Resistance to apartheid is more widespread and coherent than ever before. True, the youth are more radical, but the perception that change is closer now than ever is held not just by students but throughout the community. There is a definite thrust for a democratic, non-racial South Africa.”