JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Police arrested the secretary general of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference in Pretoria on Friday on charges of possessing illegal arms and ammunition.
Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa was taken into custody shortly after midnight outside his parish in the black Soshanguve township on the northern outskirts of Pretoria, a police spokesman said.
The black activist priest has been arrested several times on charges of leading illegal civil rights rallies, but Friday's arrest was the first for the more serious charge of possessing dangerous weapons, which could result in a stiff prison term.
"Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa is no stranger to arrest and detention," said a spokesman for the bishops conference. "We deplore the police harassment of clergy and other church workers who accompany an oppressed people in their striving for freedom."
The bishops conference said police searched Mkhatshwa's church and rectory. Police gave no details on the arms Mkhatshwa was alleged to have had in his possession.
The conference, made up of about 30 Roman Catholic bishops from South Africa and its neighboring countries, has taken a strong stand in opposing apartheid, the South African system of racial discrimination.
Mkhatshwa was among leading signatories last year of the Kairos Document, a statement strongly influenced by liberation theology, which denounced apartheid and said that the system was an irreformable tyranny. The document said the church might have to advocate civil disobedience in the fight against apartheid and implied that, under certain circumstances, violence might be justified.
Meanwhile, residents of strife-torn Alexandra township received permission to bury eight victims of recent violence in separate funerals. Organizers warned of "chaos" if police try to interfere.
Mass Funeral Prohibited
Nicholas Hayson, a lawyer for the Alexandra Action Committee, said Magistrate Ronald Mandelstram gave permission for separate burials today but prohibited a mass funeral and banned speeches, posters and flags.
Funeral organizers said that a single burial service at Alexandra stadium would be easier to control and that the chances of violence were increased by the order separating the burials.
All open-air meetings, except sports events, were banned in black townships last March and funerals have frequently erupted into bloody clashes between police and mourners.