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Botha Offers More Blacks Citizenship : May Restore Lost Status; Tutu Warns of General Strike

September 12, 1985|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — President Pieter W. Botha, under unprecedented international pressure to end South Africa's apartheid system, offered Wednesday to restore the citizenship of blacks who lost it when nominally independent tribal homelands were established for them, a move that will affect more than a third of South Africa's 25 million blacks.

Botha told a provincial congress of his ruling National Party in Bloemfontein in the conservative Orange Free State that the government will negotiate with the leaders of the Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei and Venda homelands, whose independence only South Africa recognizes, to give their 5 million residents dual citizenship.

He also said that another 4 million blacks living outside their homelands will now be recognized as full South African citizens.

The move, which Botha had hinted at several times this year but to which he had never before committed himself, will remove a major cause for black anger--the government's refusal until now to recognize many of the country's blacks as South African citizens. Previously, the government had said that all blacks would be resettled eventually in tribal homelands--and thus there would be no black South Africans.

But Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace laureate, rejected these moves as inadequate. In his boldest challenge yet to the government, he threatened to call a weeklong general strike by black workers across the country in late October unless the regime lifts the present state of emergency and takes several other actions.

Demands Troop Withdrawal

Tutu also demanded that the government withdraw the army from black townships, release those people detained without charge and open talks on the country's future with "authentic black leaders."

"I always knew I was a South African citizen," Tutu commented. "It is nice that the government now recognizes that, too, but the discussion, really and truly, is now about bigger things--how to save this country from a terrible, terrible catastrophe and how to plan a future for all of its people.

"I have had enough of our people being killed as if you were swatting flies," Tutu told a church conference in Pietermaritzburg. Later, he said he wants action "in a matter of weeks, not months, substantial changes, not more cosmetics."

Reforms on the even more important and controversial issue of the rights of blacks to work and live in urban areas will be outlined today by Pieter Koornhof, chairman of the President's Council, as the government attempts to end its deepening political, economic and diplomatic crisis.

The citizenship change announced by Botha will be symbolic initially, for black South African citizens may not vote in any national elections and are restricted by literally hundreds of laws and regulations that apply to them solely because of their race.

But the symbolism of citizenship became important for blacks long ago in the struggle against apartheid and was taken up by the United States and other countries in their demands for fundamental change here.

About 9 million blacks have lost their citizenship because their tribal homelands became "independent," but about 4 million of them live in urban areas and perhaps have never seen their remote rural homelands.

In a related move, J. Christiaan Heunis, minister of constitutional development and planning, said the government is reviewing laws and regulations applying to blacks, intending to discard most of them and simplify others so that "life will become a little more livable."

He also said that in future identity documents, blacks will be identified first as South African citizens, and second by ethnic or tribal origin.

Court Invalidates Detention

Meanwhile, in one of the most significant civil rights decisions in years, a Supreme Court judge in Durban ruled Wednesday that the detention of a Catholic church worker and anti-apartheid activist under South Africa's security laws was illegal and ordered the security police to free him immediately.

Justice Ramon N. Leon held that the police had shown no reasonable grounds to detain Paddy Kearney two weeks ago and must be able to do so despite the broad scope of the security legislation.

If Leon's ruling is upheld on appeal, the authority of the security police to indefinitely detain virtually anyone without charge and in solitary confinement will be sharply curtailed. Even before the ruling is reviewed, it may be used to appeal the detentions of hundreds of others now held here without charge.

"It is necessary to remind oneself from time to time that the first and most sacred duty of a court when possible is to administer justice to those who seek it--high and low, rich and poor, black and white," Leon declared, ordering the immediate release of Kearney, the director of Durban's ecumenical Diakonia Center.

President Botha, in his Bloemfontein speech, acknowledged the anger of blacks when they were transformed from South Africans into citizens of such places as Bophuthatswana and Venda.

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