‘Prisoners in Our Minds’--New Curbs in S. Africa

Times Staff Writer

As a political activist, Joy Harnden had been half expecting a late-night knock on the door for some time.

But when the South African security police finally did come to her home last month, they did not take her away, as they have done to many under the current state of emergency. Instead they served her with an order barring her from virtually all anti-government protests.

“The government is trying to silence its democratic opposition, and this is a way to make a person his own censor,” Harnden, a member of both the Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee and the End Conscription Campaign, said in an interview. “On almost everything we do or say, we have to worry whether it violates those restrictions and whether the security police will pick us up the next day. They want us to become prisoners in our own minds.”


Acting under the national state of emergency, now in its sixth month, the police have imposed restrictions on perhaps as many as 500 or 600 community leaders, labor union officials, clergymen, journalists, lawyers, university lecturers and students, prohibiting them from participating in a wide range of anti-apartheid activities and, in some cases, effectively putting them under house arrest.

In raids on the home of white leftists here and in Cape Town this week, security police served more than 20 new restriction orders, aimed largely at the End Conscription Campaign, and also detained 13 white activists.

“White dissidents are increasingly the target for repressive actions as the state attempts to create an illusion of unanimous white support for its policies,” Ethel Walt, the Transvaal provincial president of Black Sash, a group of white women opposed to apartheid, said Wednesday.

Those who have been restricted include Elijah Barayi, president of the 650,000-member Congress of South Africa Trade Unions, the country’s largest labor federation; Bishop Sigisbert Ndwandwe, the Anglican suffragan bishop of Johannesburg; Dr. Wolfram Kistner, director of the Justice and Reconciliation Commission of the South African Council of Churches, and the Rev. Abe Visagie, secretary of the Midlands Council of Churches in Cape province.

“These are people who are effective in their democratic opposition to apartheid and to this government, not people who have done anything wrong,” said Audrey Coleman, a member of the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee, a civil rights monitoring group. “They cannot be brought to court because they have violated no laws, and they cannot be detained indefinitely because they are often fairly prominent. What the government wants to do by imposing these restrictions is render them politically impotent.”

Coleman herself has now been placed under such restrictions. Security policemen came to her home recently to serve an order prohibiting her from participating in the activities of the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee, but she was traveling overseas and has not yet returned home.


Defended as Lenient

Government spokesmen have defended the restrictions as authorized under emergency regulations empowering the minister of law and order to detain or restrict people if “necessary for the public order or the safety of the public or that person himself or for the termination of the state of emergency.” They argue that such measures are preferable to prolonged detention.

“I think that to release a person with restrictions is better than detention,” Capt. Henry Beck, the spokesman for the Ministry of Law and Order, said recently. Noting that in most cases the orders allow a person to continue his regular employment, Beck said, “It is his other political activities that may endanger the state; that is what the restrictions are aimed at.”

But to the government’s critics, the orders amount to a reinstitution of the old practice of “banning” its opponents. The government once used banning to restrict the movements of such people, to exile them to remote communities and to prevent them from engaging in political activities and in many cases from being with more than one other person at a time.

“These orders are not as harsh as the old banning orders, but the same elements of arbitrariness and repression are present and the same vicious effects are felt,” said Walt of the Black Sash. Ten Black Sash members, including Harnden, a researcher with the group, have been restricted in recent weeks.

Sees Government Reversal

“The increasing use of restriction orders appears to be part of a concerted attempt to break the spine of extra-parliamentary anti-apartheid action,” Walt added. She described the “ominous return to bannings” as a reversal of a 1983 government decision, hailed abroad at the time as an important human rights move, not to issue new banning orders.

From 1950, when the practice was begun under the Suppression of Communism Act, about 1,500 political activists were banned, often for five years at a time and many for two, three and even four such periods. Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, was banned almost continuously from 1962 until this year.


At the beginning of 1986, 12 people were still under banning orders when the South African Supreme Court ruled that the minister of law and order had to provide a person with specific reasons for the order, as well as a chance to challenge it. The government then let all the orders lapse rather than commit itself to giving reasons and defending them.

No official figures are available on the number of people who now have been restricted under the emergency regulations, according to government spokesmen, although Beck acknowledged in October that “it is quite possible that it is quite a large number.”

The government is not required, as it would be with “banning” orders, to disclose the names of those who have been restricted.

Hundreds Restricted

The Detainees’ Parents Support Committee, based on reports from around the country, estimates that as many as 500 or 600 people have been placed under widely varying restrictions during the last five months. According to the committee’s information, widely regarded as accurate although unofficial, nearly 25,000 people have been detained since the state of emergency was declared June 12 and perhaps 9,000 are still held without charge.

The major targets of the restriction orders appear to have been the End Conscription Campaign, the Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee, unions belonging to the Congress of South African Trade Unions and local affiliates of the United Democratic Front, a coalition of 700 anti-apartheid groups with an estimated membership of 3 million.

Together with the widespread detentions of many of these organizations’ leaders and the long treason trials of others, the government’s intention appears to be what Max Coleman of the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee calls “the decapitation of the anti-apartheid movement. Those who are not on trial are detained, those who are not detained are in hiding and now those who are not in hiding are restricted.”


Most of those under restriction orders were restricted as a condition of their release from detention, a status that often allows them to keep their jobs but otherwise places them under house arrest and prohibits all political activities, including interviews with the press.

No Charges or Trial

“Again we have people convicted and sentenced without ever having been charged or tried,” Audrey Coleman said.

Some activists, including Harnden and six others who were served with orders last month, now appear to have been restricted instead of being detained, and the orders were aimed at curbing political activities.

Violation of the orders can be punished under the emergency regulations by 10 years in prison, a fine equivalent to $9,000 or both, penalties that are far more severe than those that can be imposed for breaking a “banning” order under the country’s security laws.

The orders remain valid as long as the state of emergency is in effect, and the government has declared repeatedly that emergency rule will not be ended quickly. Similar restrictions imposed on a more limited scale last year during a partial state of emergency lapsed when that emergency was lifted last March.

South African courts have ruled some of the orders invalid on the grounds that they fail to comply fully with the requirements of the country’s security laws, and some labor union officials, including Barayi, who was detained without charge for two weeks in July, have recently resumed their activities, albeit cautiously.


‘A Cautionary Experience’

“We are not lying low or pulling our punches or taking it easy,” Daniel M. Samela, an organizer for the South African Chemical Workers Union in the industrial region east of Johannesburg, said, “but we are not challenging the (police) to put us back inside either. . . . Detention, the restrictions, the whole thing was a cautionary experience, and I guess you can say it is still having a residual effect.”

Harnden had already been detained twice without charge in the last year and a half under emergency regulations, but was released both times after two weeks of interrogation about the activities, financing and publications of the left-wing Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee and the End Conscription Campaign, which opposes compulsory military service for white men and the use of troops on riot duty in the country’s black townships.

“It was more than harassment,” she said of her detention in June. “There was a fair amount of intimidation during the interrogation, threats that if I did not comply I would be detained for six months. After being told that, in fact, I would be detained for six months and having steeled myself and built up my defenses for what might be indefinite detention, it was quite a shock to be released rather suddenly.”

Feared 2nd Detention

But Harnden was concerned that she might be detained again, and perhaps more harshly treated, after a police raid on a meeting of the Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee, known as Jodac, at which the group’s chairman was detained and she and other participants were questioned and their homes searched.

In the end, restriction orders were served on her and the six other activists, all members of either Jodac or the End Conscription Campaign. The orders prohibit them from participating in certain groups’ activities that call for the release of political prisoners, demand an end to the state of emergency, protest any security force actions, urge the legalization of the African National Congress or oppose compulsory military service.

Although the activists insist that the restrictions in the long run can do no more than slow their struggle against apartheid, they do acknowledge their impact in the short term.


Mike Loewe, 26, a free-lance journalist based in Port Elizabeth, was barred on his release after 83 days in detention from writing or working on any publication as well as from involvement with anti-apartheid and anti-conscription groups.

“It basically leaves me like a mummy,” he said, “all wrapped up and unable to do anything.”