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S. Africa Ends Emergency Rule; 300 Prisoners Freed

March 08, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — More than 300 political prisoners, most of them black community leaders, were released Friday as the South African government formally ended the state of emergency imposed 7 1/2 months ago.

But the move, intended as the start of a major effort by the South African government to improve its image at home and abroad, was quickly undercut when a Cabinet minister ordered the expulsion of three CBS newsmen after the American network televised a filmed report from a mass black funeral here from which cameras were banned.

The network's action showed "a flagrant contempt" for a South African court decision upholding the government ban, Home Affairs Minister Christoffel Botha declared in ordering the CBS bureau chief, its correspondent here and a cameraman to leave the country.

"CBS is determined to disobey the South African laws in order to obtain film material which, according to our experience, is often one-sided and gives a poor image of conditions in the country," the minister said in Cape Town. CBS said it would appeal the expulsion order.

Most of the released detainees, who had been held without charge or trial and often for months in solitary confinement, came out of prison as they had gone in--determined to triumph in the struggle against South Africa's apartheid system of racial separation and minority white rule.

"The emergency has aggravated rather than curbed the upheavals in our country," said Ismail Momoniat, an official of the United Democratic Front coalition of anti-apartheid groups, said on behalf of 74 of the freed detainees.

"The formal lifting of the state of emergency in no way reduces the severe repression directed against legitimate opposition outside Parliament. Coupled with the fact that many detainees continue to languish in prison under security laws, this tempers our joy in being released and reunited with our families."

The detainees denounced President Pieter W. Botha's recently announced political reforms and called instead for full and open negotiations on the country's future with the African National Congress, its legalization and the release of Nelson Mandela and its other imprisoned leaders.

Other detainees released shortly after midnight included several top officials of the United Democratic Front, a coalition of 650 anti-apartheid groups; leaders of the Soweto Civic Assn. and Soweto Youth Congress from Johannesburg's black satellite city; members of the national executive board of the now-outlawed Congress of South African Students, and officers of other anti-apartheid organizations.

Many Still Detained

Between 230 and 270 political prisoners remain in detention, held without trial under South Africa's severe security laws, according to civil rights monitoring groups here. Police acknowledged that "a number" of those detained under the emergency regulations were still held on criminal charges, such as committing public violence.

As the released prisoners came home in the early hours of Friday, Soweto and the country's other black ghettos awakened to the chants of jubilation and triumph that normally greet political prisoners when they return.

"I'm fine, and everybody's out," Murphy Morobe, acting publicity secretary for the United Democratic Front, said as he was besieged by well-wishers at the front's office in downtown Johannesburg. "We will all be back at work on Monday. My morale has never been as high as it is now."

With the ending of the state of emergency, dozens of sweeping police orders, which established curfews in black townships, prohibited consumer boycotts, outlawed student protests and restricted news coverage of anti-government protests and riots, all lapsed on Friday.

Warning From Opposition

But opposition groups warned that President Botha's minority white government appeared intent on continuing "an undeclared state of emergency" and enacting legislation that would make permanent many of the martial law powers police had under the state of emergency.

Botha in announcing the end of the state of emergency in effect since last July 21, told Parliament in Cape Town earlier this week that the government would introduce new legislation giving the police broader powers to deal with unrest, but he gave no indication of their scope and none of the new legislation has been introduced yet.

Under Botha's emergency proclamation, the police and army had virtual martial-law powers in designated magisterial districts. At various times, 45 of the nation's 265 districts were under the proclamation's rules, although at the end it covered only 23 districts, mostly around Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Beatings and Torture

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