South Africa Braces for Strike Today : 7 More Blacks Die; Wide Protest Seen on Soweto Date
The government announced Sunday that seven more blacks have died in civil strife as South Africa braced for a general strike and nationwide anti-apartheid protests today on the 10th anniversary of the Soweto riots.
The deaths brought to 22 the number of people killed since Thursday, when a national state of emergency was proclaimed, giving the police and army virtual martial-law powers to deal with the nation’s racial unrest.
Early today, the government added to the restrictions on reporting of the unrest by prohibiting the publication of any news on police efforts to deal with the violence. Only government-released information may now be reported under the new orders.
The police also banned all journalists from entering any area “in which unrest is occurring” unless they have police permission.
Anti-apartheid groups have planned numerous protest meetings for today, in defiance of a government ban on all meetings, to commemorate the 1976 beginning of the Soweto riots and their aftermath, episodes in which at least 575 people, most of them blacks, were killed over a period of 11 months.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Council of South African Unions have called for a general strike by black workers, urging that compliance be even greater than on May Day this year when nearly 2 million blacks stopped work.
The government Sunday blamed the outlawed African National Congress for Saturday night’s car bombing in Durban that claimed the lives of three women--two of them whites who died at the scene and an Indian woman who later died of injuries. A total of 69 others, most of them whites, were injured in the Durban blast, 15 of them seriously.
Authorities accused the congress, a black nationalist guerrilla organization, of undertaking a terrorist campaign aimed at civilians to panic the country.
‘Act of Desperation’
“It (the Durban blast) was a ghastly attack of terror of the worst kind,” Louis Nel, deputy minister of information, told reporters Sunday. “It is an act of desperation by cowards. This indiscriminate action was directed at innocent civilians. The terrorist’s aim is to create panic among the population at large. The people of South Africa refuse to be intimidated and must remain calm and determined.”
The seven latest victims included four black men killed by black militants who suspected them of being government collaborators or police informers, the official information bureau said. Three other men were reported killed in clashes with police.
Gen. Johan Coetzee, South Africa’s police commissioner, said that the Durban explosives, weighing as much as 110 pounds, were similar to the kind used in other African National Congress attacks.
“It has also been established that this attack was not directed at any security force or state organization or building, but at civilians of all races and ages,” Coetzee said.
The Durban car bomb blew up outside a hotel and restaurant on that port city’s crowded beachfront.
(In Paris, the African National Congress’ president, Oliver Tambo, said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that ANC guerrillas operating in the Durban area, the scene of frequent bomb blasts, may have planted Saturday’s car bomb, news agencies reported. But Tambo said he had not yet confirmed his organization’s responsibility. At the rebels’ headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, a spokesman declined to comment until “we have heard from our units.”)
‘Government in Control’
In spite of the Durban explosion and the rising death toll in other clashes, Brig. Leon Mellet, an information bureau spokesman, declared that the state of emergency has significantly reduced the level of violence and that police and troops, reinforced by thousands of white reservists called to active duty, are consolidating their control in advance of today’s expected Soweto anniversary protests.
Mellet told reporters at a briefing here: “The government is in control of the situation, and there should be no doubt about that.”
Many churches plan special prayer services today, and the government reversed a previous warning that they, like anti-apartheid protest meetings, would be classified as “illegal gatherings.” Authorities said Sunday that security forces will not interfere with “bona fide” religious services conducted inside churches.
Clashes between militant black youths and security forces appear inevitable today in the view of many observers, and Bishop Desmond Tutu appealed Sunday for calm.
Prayer for Peace
“I pray that Monday will be peaceful and that we will observe this great day with the dignity it deserves,” said the black Anglican bishop, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
Delivering a sermon at Evaton, a black township about 50 miles south of Johannesburg, Tutu said, “For all our sakes, let us show restraint.”
As justification for the much-criticized state-of-emergency decree and for the effective suspension of virtually all civil liberties that it implies, authoritative government sources told South African newspaper editors over the weekend that a coalition of opposition groups planned to make the mid-June period--beginning with today’s anniversary--the start of a “final showdown with the government.”
Specifically mentioned as members of the coalition were the African National Congress, the United Democratic Front, which has 2 million members, and black consciousness organizations.
According to these sources, mass marches were being planned on major urban centers, including Pretoria’s Union Buildings, the seat of the government. If security forces broke up the marches, planned for Tuesday, blacks taking part were supposed to scatter and try to cause havoc in white suburbs, leading to racial warfare as whites fired on demonstrators. Pamphlets telling residents of such plans were reportedly found in black townships outside Pretoria.
Attack Plans Reported
The Afrikaans newspaper Rapport on Sunday quoted official sources as saying that opposition groups planned uprisings in virtually all cities and towns. Blacks were to gather at schools and sports fields before attacking government buildings and white residential areas, the paper reported.
Government officials said Sunday that police and military intelligence have discovered plans for widespread sabotage and guerrilla attacks over the next 10 days.
Mellet said that police seized a cache of arms and explosives last Friday as they were being smuggled in a car from neighboring Swaziland into Natal province, about 180 miles north of Durban. He said the weapons included AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and plastic explosives.