Wrong Place at the Wrong Time : Effort to Help Landed Anaheim Man in Cape Town Jail

Times Staff Writers

Ronald S. Minor of Anaheim had gone to Cape Town, South Africa, to take a job playing his trombone in a symphony orchestra.

He also landed in a Cape Town jail, swept up Saturday by South African authorities during the nationwide state of emergency declared last week by the Pretoria government.

5 From U.S. Arrested

Minor, 31, and a female companion "just thought they were helping a lady in distress and wound up being in custody for interfering with a police officer," his father, Cal State Fullerton music professor Benton L. Minor, said Wednesday.

"He's really too much into his music to be involved in political activities."

In Washington, State Department officials said the younger Minor was one of five U.S. citizens arrested during the weekend by South African security forces under emergency regulations adopted in connection with the 10th anniversary of the uprising in the black township of Soweto. Minor could not be reached for comment.

His father learned from a newspaper reporter on Tuesday of the arrest, in part because his son had requested that U.S. authorities not notify his parents. After several hours in custody, Minor was released on his own recognizance, his father said. Later Tuesday father and son spoke by telephone.

"He was just caught up in an unfortunate situation," Benton L. Minor said. "It wasn't a political act at all."

Minor and a South African woman, also a musician, were on their way to a pub to wish some other members of the orchestra goodby, the father said.

'Screaming for Help'

"They noticed a black woman being . . . forced into an automobile against her wishes" by two white men, Benton L. Minor added. "She was screaming for help. They approached the group and tried to find out what was happening."

Minor's companion repeatedly asked the men, who wore civilian clothes, if they were police. Eventually the men said they were officers. Minor's companion then asked to see identification.

"They were asked again and finally showed a badge and said: 'You're under arrest for interfering with a police officer,' " Minor said, quoting his son.

State Department spokesman Joe Reap said Wednesday that "we have raised this matter with the South African government." Meanwhile, Ronald Minor faces trial next Thursday, Reap said.

However, Minor told his father that "it's not as serious as it appears to be" and that he feels the charges will be dropped "when the true story comes out."

Minor, a Villa Park High School graduate who attended Cal State Fullerton, has been in South Africa almost three years. He traveled to Durban, South Africa, originally to play in an orchestra there. In January he returned briefly to Anaheim to audition for a position with the San Diego Symphony but returned to South Africa to take a position with the Cape Town Symphony.

While in jail, Minor was intimidated and harassed by authorities who were unaware at first that he was an American citizen, his father said. Upon being convinced that Minor is a U.S. citizen, Cape Town police confiscated his passport.

Not an Active Protester

Minor told his father that authorities said he could be thrown into jail for six months without any contact with relatives, officials or lawyers.

"He sees the treatment of blacks," his father said. "He doesn't necessarily agree with it, but he's not an active anti-apartheid" protester.

The elder Minor conceded that "one has to be" concerned for his son's welfare.

"We all know it's a critical situation. I would prefer he would be home, but he is 31. . . . He has never felt concern for his safety or well-being. He knows better than I.

"I still would prefer that he would be home."

In other developments, two Americans, including one from San Diego, who were arrested over the weekend by South African security forces were released Wednesday and are leaving the strife-torn nation, a U.S. consular official in Cape Town said.

Vice Consul Jim Gray said in a telephone interview that Scott Daugherty, 19, of San Diego and Rodney Williams, a retired Army lieutenant colonel from Hawaii, were released late Wednesday night from South Africa's Pollsmoor Prison.

Identity Withheld

Another U.S. citizen remains jailed in the Pretoria region, said State Department spokesman Bruce Awmmerman. But Awmmerman, citing privacy laws, declined to identify the man or where he is jailed. U.S. officials do not know the charges against the man, but they are working to gain his release, Awmmerman said.

The Rev. Brian Burchfield, a Lutheran missionary from Seattle, living in South Africa, was arrested Sunday but released after a few hours. Burchfield remains in South Africa.

Gray declined to give any details about Daugherty's and Williams' release except to say that Daugherty was scheduled to leave on Friday and Williams on Wednesday. U.S. consular officials in Cape Town said that the charges against both men were never made public by South African authorities but that they were detained under the provisions of the nationwide state of emergency that gives police wide discretionary powers.

Daugherty was arrested Sunday along with 250 people attending a prayer service in an Anglican church located in a Cape Town suburb. Gray said that Williams was arrested Monday outside a church but that he did not know where. Daugherty arrived in South Africa on April 17 to help victims of apartheid, according to family members and friends. Williams was vacationing in South Africa, Gray said.

U.S. officials said that neither man was mistreated while in detention.

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