Tutu Leads 20,000 in Peaceful S. Africa March; No Police Intervention

Times Staff Writer

In one of the largest anti-apartheid demonstrations in modern South Africa, Anglican Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu led about 20,000 people of all races into the downtown streets here Wednesday, carrying the flag of the outlawed African National Congress and banners openly criticizing the government.

The peaceful mile-long march to City Hall, a startling sight after more than three years of police crackdowns on most dissent under state-of-emergency decrees, was watched from afar by authorities, but none attempted to intervene.

A day earlier, acting President Frederik W. de Klerk had backed down from the government’s vow to stop the march, saying he hoped his gesture would “prove conclusively that a new spirit has arisen in our beautiful country.”

“Today we have witnessed the might of our people--the masses of our people under the flag of our people,” Jay Naidoo, general secretary of the country’s largest labor federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, told cheering throngs of black, mixed-race, Indian and white supporters at City Hall. “We have liberated Cape Town today. Now our task is to make that liberation permanent.”

Tutu, wearing a purple cassock and a silver cross around his neck, linked arms with the Rev. Allan Boesak and Cape Town Mayor Gordon Oliver at the head of the throng, calling it “a day in which we the people have scored a great victory for justice and peace.”


The mass of people, singing, chanting and raising their fists in the symbol of black liberation, turned out on a sunny, warm day to call for an end to South Africa’s policy of racial segregation and to protest police brutality that civil rights leaders say left 30 people dead in townships near Cape Town last week.

Banners reading “The People Shall Govern” and “SAP (South African police) Are Killers” bobbed above the crowd, which was watched from office towers by white business executives in suits. Many marchers wore T-shirts bearing the emblem of the United Democratic Front, the giant anti-apartheid coalition barred from political activity by the government.

And some demonstrators carried photographs of Oliver R. Tambo, president of the exiled ANC, and of Nelson R. Mandela, the jailed nationalist leader, with an inscription urging the white minority-led government to “talk to our leaders.”

“We have tried this before, but the police always dispersed us,” said one marcher, Dion Joseph, 19, a mixed-race student. “This is quite a victory. It shows that the masses are not behind this government or this Parliament.”

The march began at Tutu’s St. George’s Cathedral and ended at City Hall, where 2,000 people crammed into an auditorium and 10,000 gathered outside. Speakers shuttled between the indoor podium and the steps of City Hall outdoors, where they used a bullhorn to address the crowd.

In all, at least a dozen state-of-emergency and security laws were technically broken by the protest, including prohibitions on public marches, on political activity by restricted anti-apartheid groups and on furthering the aims of banned organizations.

During the six-week-old “defiance campaign” organized by anti-apartheid groups, police have used whips, tear gas and batons to break up more than 50 smaller gatherings and marches and have preemptively banned a dozen others.

But there was no police action Wednesday. “The impression we’re having is it’s peaceful. No incidents,” said Brig. Leon Mellet, spokesman for the government’s minister of law and order, who along with foreign diplomats and government officials watched from the periphery.

Anti-apartheid leaders have maintained that the protests of their peaceful defiance campaign frequently have been turned into violent ones by police overreaction. The election day death toll in the Cape Flats was the largest one-day bloodletting in South Africa since 1985.

“We have today proved that when policemen are not here, when their batons and quirts (whips) and tear gas are not around, then there is no violence,” said Abdullah Omar, a UDF leader, prompting cheers.

“This is a great victory for our people, but it is not the end of the road. We still have a lot to do to achieve liberation,” Omar added.

The government had said that the march, the first officially sanctioned anti-apartheid demonstration in three years and one of the largest in nearly 30 years, was a test case for future anti-apartheid protests. This appeared to signal a more liberal approach to protests as well as the government’s desire, after its reelection last week, to go ahead with plans eventually to negotiate with black leaders about South Africa’s future.

“This is not the time to aggravate the differences that exist in our society,” De Klerk said Tuesday. “This is the time for finding common ground and peaceful dialogue.”

De Klerk is under pressure, both inside and outside the country, to move swiftly on his promised reforms. But he remains firmly committed to segregated residential areas and schools and opposed to a one-person, one-vote constitution, which puts him at loggerheads with the liberation movement.

“The defiance of our people cannot be over because Mr. de Klerk says he wants to talk,” Boesak, mixed-race president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, told the demonstrators Wednesday. “To talk about what is the question. As long as apartheid exists, our protest will continue.”

Black leaders have demanded, as a prelude to talks with the government, that De Klerk lift the state of emergency, release political prisoners, lift the ban on anti-apartheid groups and allow the country’s 26-million-member black majority to organize politically.

Boesak said the peaceful march proved that the state of emergency, instituted in June, 1986, to control what the government described as a “revolutionary climate,” is “nonsense. We don’t need it.”