JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Combat troops will be sent to help police maintain order in South Africa's troubled black townships in a major move to quell the continuing racial unrest here, the government announced Thursday.
Adriaan J. Vlok, the deputy defense minister, said that the move is one of a series of steps ordered by President Pieter W. Botha to maintain law and order in the face of undiminished violence, especially in eastern Cape province where at least 42 persons have been killed in the last two weeks.
Although the move stops well short of declaring martial law in the country's black townships, it could have the effect of putting them under military occupation if unrest continues.
The troops will be used largely to man roadblocks, to cordon off black townships when unrest flares, to escort buses and delivery vehicles entering troubled areas and to protect government facilities there, said Vlok, who is also deputy minister of law and order. Some of the worst clashes between blacks and police have come during such activities.
Not 'Normal Policing'
The government announcement added that the troops will be used in "other situations as circumstances may demand."
Troops will not be used in "normal policing duties," Vlok said.
A statement by Vlok said that "the authority of the state will be maintained" and added that police and troops have been ordered to take tough measures against those the government believes are instigating violence.
"Radical revolutionary practices of intimidation and even murder of law-abiding citizens, especially those of the black communities who have indicated a willingness to go ahead with the government's reform initiatives, will under all circumstances be combated," he said.
The use of troops was one of the steps Botha ordered last week to "restore and maintain law and order" after the fatal shooting of 19 blacks near Uitenhage in eastern Cape province and mounting protests throughout the country, Vlok said.
Other measures have included the prohibition of any meetings by the United Democratic Front and 28 other organizations opposed to South Africa's apartheid policies of racial segregation in 16 districts of Cape Province and two others near Johannesburg. Police have arrested about 30 people under the country's security laws that permit indefinite detention without trial. Further steps are expected next week.
The decision to use troops regularly in the black townships is certain to generate widespread opposition among blacks and among liberal and moderate whites who have been concerned by the government's increasing use of the army, made up mainly of white draftees, to deal with unrest in the black townships.
These critics assert that the use of troops, trained for combat rather than for riot control, increases chances for another incident such as that two weeks ago in which 19 blacks died outside Uitenhage.
Troops have been used at least 20 times during the past six months to help police deal with unrest, but the government emphasized each time that the soldiers were used solely in a supporting role, such as assistance at roadblocks. Each time, there have been sharp protests from the white liberal opposition's Progressive Federal Party as well as from the black communities.
Violence continued Thursday in black townships around Uitenhage and the nearby industrial center of Port Elizabeth and in other areas of eastern Cape province, police said, but no fatalities or serious injuries were reported.
In line with the new government information policy intended to minimize the scale of the unrest, few details of the incidents were provided by police spokesmen.