South Africa’s highest court today upheld the state-of-emergency detentions of government opponents, blocking legal moves to free thousands of people held without charge.
The appeals court in Bloemfontein ruled that President Pieter W. Botha did not exceed his powers in authorizing the detentions. The government has said 9,600 people have been detained under the emergency declared June 12.
Independent monitoring groups have put the figure at about 12,000.
The five judges of the appellate division of the Supreme Court supported the government in two separate appeals concerning detentions.
In one case, three Natal Supreme Court judges in Durban on Aug. 11 ruled unconstitutional emergency regulations permitting any security force member to detain anyone in the interest of public order, and the indefinite extension of the detentions for the duration of the emergency.
The Durban ruling freed Solomon Tsenoli, an official of the United Democratic Front, the main multiracial anti-apartheid alliance. Dozens of other detainees went to court and obtained their freedom in the next few days on the basis of the Tsenoli case.
But another three-judge panel of the Natal court directly contradicted the Tsenoli decision on Aug. 14, upholding the regulations. The Bloemfontein court upheld that ruling today, and reversed the ruling in the Tsenoli case.