Analysis : S. Africa Emergency Rule: No Quick End : Harsh Crackdown Could Last Months as Regime Pursues Goals

Times Staff Writer

Some South Africans, even within President Pieter W. Botha’s National Party, had hoped that the state of emergency imposed on June 12 would be relaxed by June 30 and lifted sometime next month. But it is becoming clear that the state of emergency will be tougher and will last longer than perhaps anyone had expected.

Louis le Grange, the minister of law and order, told a political rally Thursday that the government is determined to enforce emergency rule “relentlessly” and does not intend to lift it before law and order are fully restored to the riot-torn country.

Now people close to the government talk of restoring political and civil liberties, possibly in December.

The realization also is growing, even among the white minority, of what emergency rule can mean as the government orders its critics to “toe the line” or face summary punishment. What has been imposed is akin to martial law, with the government assuming the right to detain people without trial, seize businesses and close newspapers.


But the government’s strategy, despite its daily claims of less and less violence, was never aimed at a quick fix. From the outset of the state of emergency, those at the top knew that severe, not to say harsh, measures would be involved, including mass detentions of black activists and community leaders, and that many months would be required if these actions were to be effective.

The time bought through the crackdown could be used, the government believed, to end nearly two years of rioting and restore order, to stabilize the black communities and draw their “moderate” leaders into a political dialogue. It could also be used to reassure frightened whites and win a mandate from them for broader reforms, and then to begin negotiations on a constitutional formula for what Botha calls “power sharing.”

In declaring the state of emergency, Botha said his purpose was “to create a situation of relative normality so that every citizen can perform his daily tasks in peace, the business community can fulfill its role and the reform program to which the government has committed itself can be continued.”

The government’s basic goals were, in fact, just two:


--After nearly two years of increasing unrest, sometimes bordering on civil war, the Botha government felt that it had to restore its receding authority throughout the country with whatever force was required.

--Amid unprecedented political challenges both at home and abroad, the government felt that it needed to reassert its legitimacy, silencing as many as possible of its domestic critics, black and white, and restricting news of internal developments conveyed to the outside world.

Goals Still Elusive

But, after two weeks of emergency rule, these goals seem nearly as elusive as before.


Despite the government’s daily claims that the level of violence is dropping sharply--claims that it refuses to let newsmen verify by traveling freely in black areas and covering the unrest firsthand--72 people by the government’s count have been killed in the past 16 days. This average of 4.5 deaths a day is lower than the 6.8 a day recorded in May, but about the same as the daily average since January and twice that of last year.

Other indications of the security situation around the country have come in recent days, with the imposition of nighttime curfews on wide areas of eastern Cape province, the Orange Free State and the troubled tribal homeland of Kwandebele. The government also postponed for two weeks the reopening of urban black schools, which long have been centers of anti-apartheid activities.

Those black townships around Johannesburg and Pretoria where the travel ban has been lifted did appear subdued during a tour of 16 of them this week, but it was the tranquility that an occupation army might have imposed on a conquered nation.

A ‘Sullen Peace’


“No state of emergency has produced peace and stability,” Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate, commented a week ago, describing the situation in Soweto as a “sullen peace.”

Winnie Mandela, wife of the imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, went further in a television interview broadcast in London. She described the state of emergency as “a declaration of war” on blacks. The state of emergency “can do nothing less than promote the very situation (of rebellion) that the government is trying to prevent,” she said.

Nevertheless, the government, according to senior officials and Nationalist members of Parliament, believes that it is winning an important “test of strength” with black militants and that victory--or defeat--will change the course of South African history.

According to the government, the June 16 anniversary of the Soweto riots was to have been marked by violent black protests across the country, including a march on Pretoria by tens of thousands of blacks. Millions of black workers did stay away from their jobs in a massive general strike, but there was no indication of the sort of violence the government said it expected. At least 11 blacks were killed in clashes with the police and among rival black factions.


No Proof of Uprising

But the government has refused to produce any evidence, not even a briefing from its own intelligence officers, to support its contention that the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party had planned a massive uprising for June 16, and that this was averted by the imposition of emergency rule and the massive deployment of security forces.

This has left skeptics to conclude that hawks in the Botha Cabinet, who have long called for a much tougher line to curb the unrest, finally triumphed over the doves favoring reform and negotiation, and that the prospect of protests on June 16 became the cover for a long-planned crackdown.

In April, Le Grange had already asked Parliament for authority to declare any troubled district an “unrest area” and then to take whatever action he believed necessary to restore order there. Later he asked that the police be permitted to detain without charge for up to six months anyone they believed to have been involved in unrest or likely to become involved.


The government’s plan then, according to Cabinet members, was to give the police greater powers to end the strife without the political embarrassment of declaring a state of emergency, and then to remove from their communities black opponents of the government’s step-by-step reforms so that moderates could come forward without fear of intimidation.

2 Houses Balked

The government was thwarted when the Indian and Colored (mixed-race) houses of the tricameral Parliament refused to approve the new security legislation, dubbed the “Le Grange laws,” in time to prevent the June 16 protests.

Both bills have now been enacted. The Nationalists pushed them through the President’s Council, an advisory and legislative body with power to break parliamentary deadlocks. But government officials say that Le Grange wants to conduct “a real cleanup” under the state of emergency with its broader powers before falling back on the new laws.


The government has also made it clear that it will brook no opposition, no sustained criticism from any quarter, not even in the white community.

Parliament was prevented from fully debating the state of emergency. Newspapers were told that they may be closed if they continue their criticism of it, and white anti-apartheid activists were warned that they, too, could be detained indefinitely by the police.

Although the government’s basic strategy remains unchanged, according to senior officials and Nationalist members of Parliament, there are serious questions about its viability.

Moderates Estranged


Many of the black moderates the government must entice into political dialogue have said they cannot even consider the proposal under present conditions.

Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the Zulu leader, whose participation is essential, said that imposition of emergency rule was tragic and that it makes negotiations impossible.

Tom Boya, mayor of the black township of Daveyton, east of Johannesburg, said on behalf of other black local officials in the Urban Councils Assn. that they, too, could not take part without the lifting of the state of emergency, the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and the repeal of the remaining apartheid laws.

This means that there probably will be few black leaders willing to take part in the negotiations, planned for later this year, to establish a multiracial national council.


Chaired by Botha, the council would deal initially with legislation affecting blacks, and later become a forum for writing a new “power-sharing” constitution. The first steps toward forming the council, announced in January, are expected when Parliament reconvenes about Aug. 18 to discuss further political, economic and social reforms. Even before the state of emergency, black leaders had expressed only limited interest in the proposal.