In the most sweeping crackdown in a decade, the government today banned all political activities by 17 opposition groups, including the country's largest anti-apartheid organization, the United Democratic Front.
It banned several front leaders individually from working for the organization, writing articles, giving speeches or granting interviews. It also ordered that the main black labor federation, the militant Congress of South African Trade Unions, limit its activities only to labor issues and stay out of politics.
"The government has declared war against all peaceful opposition," said Azhar Cachalia, treasurer of the United Democratic Front and one of its few leaders not in detention. The front represents more than 600 anti-apartheid organizations with more than 2 million members.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against apartheid, also said many South Africans will see the restrictions as a "declaration of war."
'To Rule With a Jackboot'
"The government's idea of reform is to smash all effective possible political opposition in the country, no matter how peaceful and lawful, and to rule with a jackboot," Tutu said. He appealed to the United States and other Western countries to intensify economic pressure on South Africa.
In Washington, the Reagan Administration summoned South Africa's ambassador to the State Department to protest his government's "giant step backward" in restricting political activities by blacks. Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said Ambassador Piet Kkoornhof was summoned to "register our shock and distress at these inexplicable actions by his government."
The restrictions, announced in a special government gazette, do not technically outlaw the front and the other groups but effectively ban them by prohibiting them from carrying on any activities not approved by Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok.
The crackdown affects virtually all of the largest militant black political groups in South Africa and appears aimed at eliminating competition for black moderates willing to accept the concept of white political control.
The co-president of the United Democratic Front, Archie Gumede, was taken away by police from his office in Durban, served with individual banning orders and released, colleagues said. Albertina Sisulu, the other co-president, was barred from leaving her home between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. and was also affected by the new orders.
Briton Sees New Violence
Britain, the staunchest opponent of sanctions against South Africa, condemned the crackdown. Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe said the "oppressive" restrictions could breed more violence.
The Rev. Allan Boesak, a co-founder of the front, said the government had acted out of frustration because its tough tactics during a 20-month-old state of emergency have failed to quell militant opposition.
"It is not possible, really, to ban the UDF," he said in a telephone interview. "The UDF is much less an organization than a symbol of the determination of South Africa's oppressed people to be free."
He said one of the government's aims is to crush organizations that planned to call for a boycott of black municipal elections scheduled for October. If the United Democratic Front is unable to promote a boycott, he said, he will do so personally.
Under the restrictions, the organizations will be permitted to maintain bank accounts, perform administrative functions and undertake legal action. But no other activities will be permitted unless authorized by Vlok.
Several of the affected groups said they will challenge the new orders in court.