S. Africa Frees 5 Activists but Imposes Limits

Times Staff Writer

Five leading anti-apartheid activists, detained without charge nearly four months ago when the South African government imposed a state of emergency over large sections of the country, were released Wednesday but were forbidden indefinitely to take part in any political activity.

The government's action, taken under threat of lawsuits by the men's families who are seeking their release, aroused immediate fears that the minority white regime of President Pieter W. Botha is returning to its widely denounced practice of "banning" its critics, silencing them with unchallengeable police orders and imposing virtual house arrest, with violations punishable by lengthy prison sentences.

"This is another kind of arbitrary punishment without trial," Sheena Duncan, president of the Black Sash women's anti-apartheid group, said of the restrictions. "If the government is going to use this very widely on hundreds of people in detention, then it is more evidence that the government is seeking to crush all opposition."

Among those released was Dr. Rashid A.M. Saloojee, 52, one of the most prominent opponents of apartheid and the Transvaal province president of the United Democratic Front and acting president of the Transvaal Indian Congress. The others are four young whites active in the Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee and other leftist groups here.

Under the government's restrictions, the five are barred from taking part in the activities of these and other anti-apartheid groups, from attending political rallies, from involvement with any labor unions, youth organizations or groups based in Johannesburg's black townships and from speaking publicly, writing for publication or giving interviews to the press.

They are also restricted to the Johannesburg magisterial district for the duration of the state of emergency, which began July 21.

So severe are the restrictions--violations are punishable by 10 years in prison--that a family discussion over dinner criticizing the government appears to be prohibited.

Sara Saloojee, speaking for her husband, said that the men's attorneys will challenge the orders, the first of their kind, in court. Saloojee, who was detained for four months last year before being released without charge, lost nearly 25 pounds in prison and in the last weeks of his detention was committed to the psychiatric ward of a Johannesburg hospital for treatment of acute depression.

'Sinister Trend' Seen

Helen Suzman, a member of Parliament for the liberal white opposition Progressive Federal Party and a veteran critic of the government, described the government moves as "a pretty sinister trend."

"The release of these men is not going to count for much in the outside world or in the lives of the people themselves," Suzman said. "What we want is that people be free to protest lawfully against government policy. The line between lawful protest and what the government regards as subversion is becoming thinner and thinner in this country."

About 100 other political activists, mostly local leaders whose detention has heightened tension, particularly in eastern Cape province, have been released in the past week, but apparently without such stringent conditions.

In a related action, Louis le Grange, the minister of law and order, told the police on Wednesday to keep secret the names of people detained under the state-of-emergency regulations.

The regulations prohibit publication of the names of detainees without police permission. Up to now, they had been made public each Friday by police headquarters in Pretoria. No reason was given for the new order.

According to official figures published Friday by police headquarters, 1,152 people were being held under the emergency regulations. Altogether, 5,876 have been detained without charge since the emergency was proclaimed in July, though this does not include nearly 2,000 elementary and junior high school students held overnight before being released in the custody of their parents or teachers.

Challenges to Detentions

The government, which is finding it increasingly difficult to justify its tough measures even to its white constituency, is now facing two other serious challenges to its sweeping detentions of the past four months:

--In Cape Town and on the Cape of Good Hope Peninsula, more than 350 political prisoners, all detained without charge recently under the state of emergency, reportedly have undertaken a hunger strike demanding the lifting of the state of emergency, the release of all political detainees and equal treatment for black and white prisoners.

Farieda Omar, the wife of Abdullah Omar, a prominent civil rights lawyer who has been detained, said her husband and 300 to 400 other political prisoners on Wednesday joined the hunger strike begun on the weekend by about 40 men and women.

About 100 people are fasting in sympathy in a Cape Town church and at two factories in Athlone, a Colored (mixed-race) suburb of the city.

The prisons department confirmed the start of the detainees' fast earlier this week, but imposed a news blackout Wednesday when an estimated 300 prisoners joined the action. A spokesman would only reaffirm an earlier statement that they would not be force-fed if two physicians certified that they understood the consequences of their action.

--In Johannesburg, the families of several political detainees, backed by respected clergymen, lawyers, community leaders and recently released prisoners, are asking for an urgent court order prohibiting the security police in Soweto, the black satellite city 10 miles southwest of here, from torturing prisoners.

Detainees Charge Torture

The former detainees, supported by physicians, testified that they had been tortured with electric shocks to all parts of their bodies, including their genitals, that they had been suffocated with rubber masks and wet rags soaked with tear gas and that they had been whipped and beaten with fists and gun butts as they were interrogated about the activities of the United Democratic Front, a multiracial coalition of 650 anti-apartheid groups.

A court ruling is expected today, but the government is opposing the request on the grounds that such a court order would undermine the police, interfere with their operations and upset the force's discipline. A similar blanket order was granted in September for detainees in eastern Cape province, and courts in Cape Town and Durban as well as Johannesburg have issued orders recently in individual cases.

In the continuing civil strife, a black police reservist was killed near Upington, a remote town in northern Cape province that in the last week has become the scene of considerable violence. Five persons have now been reported killed there. Police headquarters said that three policemen were injured, two when their car was hit by a firebomb and one when he was stoned by a mob.

Further unrest was reported from the Cape Town area, from eastern Cape province and from Soweto, the black ghetto outside Johannesburg. At Worcester, on the Cape Peninsula, the police detained about 40 schoolchildren, many only 10 or 12 years old, who had been attending a wake for an earlier unrest victim and, according to police, began to stone police vehicles.

In Guguletu, a black township outside Cape Town, a man was stabbed and critically wounded in a fight with black youths attempting to enforce their school boycott and prevent his daughters from writing their year-end school examinations.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
53°