Hundreds of black workers began sit-down strikes at South African stores, factories and farms on Wednesday to protest the government's detention of labor union leaders under the national state of emergency imposed last week.
Workers at supermarkets around Johannesburg and in several other major cities stopped work and began sit-ins to demand the release of leaders and shop stewards of the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union, who they said had been detained in the last week.
Similar protests were reported from several factories in the industrial belt east of Johannesburg, from around Cape Town and from the Port Elizabeth area. Business executives expressed concern that the protests could grow rapidly, leading to violent clashes if the government used its vast emergency powers to curb them.
The government reported that three more blacks were killed Tuesday in the country's continuing civil unrest.
One was fatally wounded when police fired on a group of blacks attacking a bus with firebombs at Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, according to a spokesman at the government information bureau. A second was killed near Nelspruit in eastern Transvaal province when police opened fire on a mob attacking their vehicle. In the tribal homeland of Kwandebele, northeast of Pretoria, police found the charred corpse of a man, apparently the victim of fighting between rival political groups there.
These deaths brought to 45 the number of people killed since President Pieter W. Botha declared a national state of emergency last Thursday and gave the police and army sweeping powers to curb the country's continuing unrest. More than 1,800 have died in the conflict here over the past two years.
David W. Steward, chief of the information bureau, insisted at a press briefing in Pretoria that, despite the high death toll over the last week, the government believes it is succeeding through the state of emergency in restoring law and order and that its actions, however harsh they may appear abroad, thus have the broad support of South Africans, blacks and whites alike.
But the proliferation of strikes and other union protests poses a considerable threat to the government in its declared goal of establishing stability and winning investor as well as public confidence.
Clive Weil, managing director of Checkers, the hardest-hit supermarket chain, confirmed the sit-down strikes at many of his firm's stores, but said he had been "instructed not to comment."
"There is a total embargo on what I may say on this thing in terms of the emergency regulations," Weil said.
Executives at other companies refused even to confirm the work stoppages officially, saying that they have been warned that they might be prosecuted under the emergency regulations for any comment.
'Disturbed' at Detentions
But Tony Bloom, chairman of Premier Group Holdings Ltd., one of the country's largest companies, said in a statement that he was "deeply disturbed" that so many union leaders and shop stewards were detained. He said this and other government actions would "fundamentally undermine relationships between management and the work force and are detrimental to . . . industrial peace."
Bloom said he told the ministers of law and order and of manpower in a telegram that the union officials should either be brought to trial if the government believes they have broken the law, or else freed immediately.
"Apart from the humanitarian aspects of detention without trial, which are considerable in themselves," Bloom said, "from a practical business point of view, a legacy of bitterness is certain to be created. . . . These are the people with whom South African management will have to negotiate, and a surer formula for conflict would be hard to devise."
More than 40 union leaders, shop stewards and other officials were reportedly detained in the first wave of arrests before dawn last Thursday, according to church groups and labor organizations, but that number is believed to have increased greatly over the last week.
In many areas, union leaders make up a large proportion of those detained, according to groups attempting to monitor the detentions, and the militant Metal and Allied Workers and the Chemical Workers appear to have been hit hardest.
(In London, Britain's Trades Union Congress said more than 70 union leaders have been detained since the state of emergency was imposed, Reuters news agency reported Wednesday. These include Jay Naidoo, general secretary of the half-million-member Congress of South African Trade Unions, and Piroshaw Camay, general secretary of the Council of Unions of South Africa, the other major black union federation.)
The state of emergency is also reportedly putting a severe strain on annual wage negotiations now under way between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Chamber of Mines, increasing chances for a strike later this year at the country's all-important gold and coal mines. A number of shop stewards and field representatives of the mineworkers union, which represents a large proportion of black miners, are said to have been detained.
In Cape Town, an opposition politician told Parliament that "thousands" of people have disappeared since the state of emergency was declared last week, and the police and army were given virtual martial-law powers.
"People just disappear--they have been taken by the police," Ray Swart of the centrist Progressive Federal Party said. Swart cited a list of incidents in which people had been detained in the last week and little or nothing heard from them since.
Colin Eglin, the leader of the Progressive Federal Party, called on the government, as a matter of public accountability as well as human decency, to release the names and places where the detainees are being held.
But Steward said the government has decided to keep this information, as well as the total number of detainees, secret "in the interests of state security." Detainees' families will be notified of their arrest, Steward said, but no other information will be given. The emergency regulations make it illegal to "disclose" the name of any detainee without police permission.
(Amnesty International said in London, meanwhile, that on the basis of reports from South Africa, it believed that at least 3,000 people, mostly blacks and mixed-race Coloreds, have been detained without charge since last Thursday, Reuters reported in another dispatch. Many of them are being moved to large prison camps in remote areas of the country, the human rights organization said. Amnesty International said the detainees include many clergymen, lawyers, academics and community leaders, in addition to union officials.
(A spokesman at the British Foreign Office, declining to say how his government had obtained its figures, said that about 2,000 people have been jailed "since the weekend," according to United Press International. Estimates of those detained Thursday, in the hours before the state of emergency was officially proclaimed, ran between 1,000 and 2,000.)
Steward confirmed the detention of nearly 200 people Sunday night at an Anglican church outside Cape Town after Amnesty International reported that police arrested the whole congregation at an evening prayer service. He asserted, however, that a political meeting, not a religious service, was under way in the church when the group was arrested.
Among those detained in the incident was a visiting U.S. college student, Scott Daugherty, 19, of San Diego. His father, Wayne Daugherty, a biology professor at San Diego State University, said Wednesday that his son was freed and is on the way home. (Story in Part 2, Page 2.)
Until the Amnesty International report was published, the government information bureau had for two days denied all knowledge of the incident, adding to newsmen's charges--which Steward rejected--that the bureau is primarily concerned with preventing disclosure of police and military actions rather than informing the public on developments here.
Both South African and foreign newsmen have been severely restricted by the government on what they may report, where they may go and whom they may quote, and the bureau has been made the only authorized source of information on the country's continuing civil strife.