The South African government, taking steps that are among the toughest yet against opponents of minority white rule, Wednesday prohibited political activity by the United Democratic Front, the country's largest anti-apartheid group, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the biggest labor federation.
Adriaan Vlok, the minister of law and order, acting with greatly increased authority under the country's state of emergency, also banned such activities by 16 other groups and barred at lea1936990257participating in any political activity and placed them under effective house arrest.
Among those affected are the United Democratic Front's co-presidents, Archie Gumede and Albertina Sisulu, both veterans of the anti-apartheid movement with close ties to the outlawed African National Congress.
"The government, as far as we are concerned, is declaring war on the people of South Africa," Sisulu said. "The UDF and its affiliates . . . will definitely challenge this ban with all our political and legal resources. . . . Nothing is going to stop the people. Nothing is going to stop the struggle against apartheid. The government should know that by now. The struggle is on."
Vlok said that despite the government's success in substantially reducing political violence in most areas of South Africa during the 20-month-old state of emergency, a "revolutionary climate" has continued to grow, with anti-apartheid resistance apparently gaining political strength among the black majority.
As Vlok explained the government's need for the new measures, which stop just short of entirely outlawing the 18 affected groups, the country's crisis appeared to be as profound and unresolved as ever. The government seemed in an even deeper quandary over how to create the environment that it has said it seeks for the peaceful, negotiated resolution of South Africa's problems.
Vlok said "the revolutionary climate has risen to such an extent that further unrest could break out at any time."
"Something had to be done," he argued, "and therefore it was essential that the activities and plans of these organizations and people should be brought under control."
Police Blame ANC
Lt. Gen. Johan van der Merwe, chief of the country's security police, portrayed the anti-apartheid movement as virtually a creation of the African National Congress, which was outlawed in 1960.
He asserted that while the ANC's guerrilla campaign has been contained, the group is still making considerable progress in mobilizing the black majority, in undermining the government and in isolating South Africa internationally.
"It is important," Van der Merwe said, "to bear in mind that the creation of so-called mass democratic organizations forms part of the revolutionary onslaught of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party against the Republic of South Africa."
However, a broad range of anti-apartheid organizations, along with the American and British governments, warned that the new measures will exacerbate the crisis and perhaps propel South Africa into the racial civil war that many here, blacks and whites alike, fear is coming.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate, declared at a press conference in Cape Town, "There is now not the slightest possible doubt that (the government's) idea of reform is to smash all effective possible political opposition in the country, no matter how peaceful or lawful, and to rule with the jackboot.
"White South Africans must realize that they are at the crossroads. If they don't stop this government soon--and there is not much hope that they will--we are heading for war."
'Desperate Kind of Action'
The Rev. Allan Boesak, moderator of the mixed-race Dutch Reformed Mission Church, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and a founder of the UDF five years ago, said at the same press conference: "Every single peaceful action we can take has now been criminalized. It is clear we are dealing with a new and desperate kind of action to break the back of the democratic movement."
Jay Naidoo, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has more than a million members in 13 affiliates, told a news conference--which was itself probably a violation of the new orders--that "the closing of democratic expression will possibly lead to an escalation of civil conflict and violence."
"There cannot be a peaceful resolution of South Africa's crisis without freedom of expression and association and without credible organizations that can articulate the needs and interests of the majority," Naidoo said. "The banning and restricting of our organizations are the actions of panic. . . . The government has opted for the iron fist of repression."
COSATU, as the 2-year-old labor federation is known, is permitted under the new orders to continue its trade union work. However, it is barred from all political activity, even though it claims a lawful role as a "legitimate channel for the demands and needs" of its members, particularly disfranchised black workers.
The U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, describing the restricted organizations as "representing the aspirations of a large cross-section of the black community," said that the white-led minority government, which long enjoyed the support of the Reagan Administration, had "dealt a severe blow to efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to South Africa's problems." An embassy spokesman said, "This is a giant step backward for South Africa."
U.S. 'Appalled' by Move
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said "we are appalled" by the South African action. He said the South African ambassador was summoned to the State Department so that the United States could express its "shock and distress."
In addition to the United Democratic Front, which claims 3 million members in 750 affiliates countrywide, and COSATU, the 16 groups affected by the order include the militant South African Youth Congress; the black consciousness Azanian People's Organization; the National Education Crisis Committee, which has been campaigning for "people's education" and sweeping school reforms, and human rights groups and black civic associations in Soweto, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and the Vaal industrial region south of Johannesburg.
Vlok's far-reaching orders outlaw almost all their activities except for routine administration.
"The lights are finally going out in South Africa," said Max Coleman, chairman of the respected Detainees' Parents Support Committee, one of the restricted human rights groups, "and with them are going the last vestiges of freedom to criticize or resist in any way the suffocating tentacles of apartheid. To oppose is to invite liquidation.
"The public must now surely realize that all pretense of South Africa being a Western-style, parliamentary democracy has gone out of the window. The Detainees' Parents Support Committee will not capitulate to this tyranny, and it intends taking all steps to challenge the validity of this order."
Mine Owners Protest
Even the Chamber of Mines, the powerful industry association that embraces the major mining companies, said it believes that a negotiated settlement, including "full political participation for all," is the only solution to South Africa's problems. It said that it has long supported the principles of freedom of speech and association and of the rule of law.
"It is therefore regrettable that the situation in South Africa has evidently deteriorated to the extent that the government considers it necessary to erode further these fundamental pillars of democracy in order to preserve stability," a spokesman for the chamber said. He continued:
"The chamber's perception is that threats to law and order posed by these organizations could be adequately addressed through due process of existing law."
The Rev. Frank Chikane, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, one of the few major anti-apartheid groups not restricted, summoned religious leaders to an urgent conference here today, and COSATU called a special meeting of top union officials to discuss the new measures.
The affected groups are permitted under the orders to challenge the new restrictions in court.
Some of their legal advisers believe the orders to be too broad to be legal and argued that President Pieter W. Botha has exceeded his authority in granting such powers to Vlok. However, others noted that the courts have generally upheld the government's authority to rule by decree under the state of emergency and have become reluctant to invalidate individual orders.
The only apparent support the government received came from the far right wing. The Conservative Party, the government's official parliamentary opposition, said the measures are still insufficient to curb radicals and have come far too late.
Elections a Factor
The Conservatives have mounted a strong challenge to the ruling National Party in three parliamentary by-elections next month that, while not affecting the Nationalists' control of the government, will be closely watched for an indication of white voters' sentiments. Some South African political observers linked the government's action, at least in timing, to the by-elections.