S. Africa Frees Hundreds of Political Detainees; Emergency in 2nd Year

Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of political detainees, some of whom had been held for a year without charge, were freed Friday as the country entered its second year under emergency rule.

According to civil rights monitoring groups, more than 1,000 detainees have been released this week in what appears to be a government effort to reduce the political impact of President Pieter W. Botha's decision to renew the state of emergency.

About 2,000 people, including leading anti-apartheid activists, are still believed to be held under emergency regulations, which permit indefinite detention without trial. Those released Friday included Father Smangaliso Mkhwatsha, general secretary of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference, and several top officials of the United Democratic Front.

Also released were Tom Waspe, chairman of the predominantly white, left-wing Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee; Zoli Malindi and Trevor Manuel, the regional president and general secretary of the United Democratic Front in Cape Town, and Dorothy Nyembe, a longtime leader of the outlawed African National Congress in Durban.

'Letting Everyone Go'

About 500 other detainees were formally charged with a variety of offenses, and most were permitted to apply for release on bail pending trial, government sources said.

"The police just seemed to be opening all the cell doors and letting everyone go," a student leader in Cape Town said after his release after seven months' imprisonment. "There were no lectures, no warnings, no explanations--just a police captain who said, 'You are free to go.' They seemed to want to empty the whole jail."

More than 200 detainees were released from Diepkloof Prison in Soweto, the black satellite city outside Johannesburg, according to activists among those who were freed, and at least 300 from St. Alban's Prison in Port Elizabeth. In Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, more than 100 were freed in each city, civil rights groups reported.

Among those released in Cape Town were most of the regional leaders of the United Democratic Front, a coalition of 700 anti-apartheid groups with more than 3 million members nationwide. But the organization's top officials in Port Elizabeth remained in detention.

Violence Level Lower

The police declined to confirm the extent of the releases, but official sources in Cape Town said the government, after reviewing each detainee's case, believed that with the much-reduced level of unrest in recent months it could free at least half of the estimated 3,500 people it was holding without charge.

Audrey Coleman, a member of the Detainees' Parents Support Committee, which monitors political detentions, said that many key anti-apartheid activists, community leaders and labor union officials are still held and that a number of black youths were rearrested within hours of returning home.

Nearly 30,000 people have been detained under the state of emergency, according to estimates by the Detainees' Parents Support Committee. The government has acknowledged holding more than 14,000 for more than 30 days but has refused to give Parliament the total number of detainees.

Emergency regulations permit the police to detain anyone, and with ministerial permission to hold that person indefinitely, without charge or trial, in solitary confinement if the authorities so choose.

2 Policemen Killed

Meanwhile, two policemen were reported killed in the continuing violence. Although police headquarters in Pretoria said the circumstances of their deaths were not clear, the two were shot along a highway near the eastern Transvaal town of Witbank by two men believed to be insurgents of the outlawed African National Congress. The officers were taking the two from Komatipoort on the border with Mozambique to the Johannesburg area.

In downtown Johannesburg, a firebomb was hurled at St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral, breaking windows and charring the entrance. Afterward, anti-apartheid groups held a two-hour vigil there to protest the extension of emergency rule. An anonymous caller told Bishop Duncan Buchanan at 4 a.m. that the attack was carried out to protest what he described as church support for the ANC.

In Cape Town, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Anglican prelate and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, told a noontime prayer service that the government had "gone mad" by prohibiting peaceful protests against apartheid.

"They are saying that the only thing they can accept is for the victims of apartheid to become the doormats on which people can wipe their feet," Tutu said. "My own concern is how heartless the rulers have become. . . . Yet there is a promise about our land, for it is remarkable that people are not hate-filled. They are not bitter, but they are angry, and I expect them to be."

2-Week Protest Called

The United Democratic Front, the country's largest anti-apartheid group, has called on South Africans to observe two weeks of protest against the state of emergency. In one of the first demonstrations, dozens of white women, members of the Black Sash civil rights group, stood along several of Johannesburg's main thoroughfares at rush hour Friday morning with placards denouncing the extension of emergency rule and calling for the release of all political detainees.

Mkhwatsha, whose yearlong detention drew international protests, appealed to the government on his release to free all the remaining detainees in order to foster reconciliation in South Africa.

"I feel that it is very important," he told a press conference in Pretoria, "to create a new climate in this country--a climate conducive to dialogue--where people can really sit down and listen to one another and try to find a solution to the problems that face us."

Detention Confirmed Beliefs

Mkhwatsha, 47, a founder of the United Democratic Front and one of the most charismatic of South Africa's black leaders, said that his year in detention had confirmed his political beliefs and strengthened his resolve to carry on with his work, "with all that implies."

"I don't think that any of us opposed to an unjust system, such as exists in this country, can do any different," he said. "I don't think that anyone can choose not to struggle against an unjust system or tyranny. . . . I think it is our duty to fight for a new society that is truly non-racial and truly democratic."

Surprisingly cheerful despite his long imprisonment and a period of harsh interrogation and torture, Mkhwatsha said he refused to be angry or bitter. "Bitterness is something negative," he said. "It would only eat me up, and I am not prepared to allow that."

He still faces trial on charges of illegal possession of a pistol, which the police said was found when his church north of Pretoria was searched last June. He is free on the equivalent of $500 bail.

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