JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The South African government, alarmed by the country's growing civil strife, is reportedly preparing to take some of its toughest measures yet to curb the widespread unrest here.
The Cabinet met much of Wednesday under President Pieter W. Botha in Cape Town to consider such options as the renewal of the state of emergency to give the security forces broader powers, and reportedly even the declaration of martial law.
The government's decisions, expected to be announced to Parliament today or Friday, will be designed to break the cycle of violence, now nearly two years old, and thus give the country sufficient time and peace to consider Botha's program of political, economic and social reforms, according to senior government officials.
But the new steps, certain to be harsh even by South African standards, could well deepen the current crisis here if they fail to halt the violence and instead provoke even greater anti-government protests.
The measures, although undisclosed, are already being justified by South Africa's state-run radio and television and pro-government newspapers as intended to preempt the nationwide protests planned for next week to mark the 10th anniversary of the black riots that began in Soweto outside Johannesburg and swept the country for 11 months in 1976 and 1977.
"At this time, there is no more imperative obligation on the state than to act decisively in restoring stability in the country," Radio South Africa said early today in a commentary reflecting government views. "The state today is faced with the duty of restoring law and order throughout South Africa."
Anniversary of Uprising
The United Democratic Front, the country's largest anti-apartheid organization with 650 affiliates and more than 2 million members, called on "all peace-loving South Africans to attend church services in all areas" on Sunday and Monday marking the anniversary of what blacks call the "Soweto uprising."
Similar calls have come from the 500,000-member Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Anglican, Catholic, Baptist and Methodist churches and a wide range of anti-apartheid groups despite a government prohibition on "any meeting in any building" this month commemorating the Soweto riots, regarded by blacks as one of the most important events in their long struggle against apartheid.
A one-day general strike and school boycott will also be observed by several million black workers and students on Monday.
Murphy Morobe, the United Democratic Front's publicity secretary and a student leader in Soweto 10 years ago, said the front is using the anniversary to launch a campaign calling for the legalization of the African National Congress, banned in 1960, in an effort to maintain the maximum domestic pressure on the government.
The new government actions, at a minimum, are certain to strictly enforce the present bans on political meetings and to detain black activists under the country's severe security laws.
In what may be the start of such a sweep, more than 30 anti-apartheid activists, mostly officials of the United Democratic Front, were detained by police Wednesday in eastern Cape province and the nominally independent Xhosa tribal homelands of Ciskei and Transkei, according to spokesmen for the group and its affiliates.
Thousands of additional white army reservists, meanwhile, have been called to active duty in the last week for periods up to three months, and large military camps are being established near the black ghetto townships outside the country's major cities.
Fighting continued through most of Wednesday at the Crossroads squatter settlement outside Cape Town, with conservative black vigilantes pursuing retreating militants into adjacent black townships. Police said they intervened several times to keep the two groups apart, and combat troops have been sent to the area.
Four more people were reported killed, bringing the official death toll to 21 this week, although relief workers believe it is probably twice that.
Bishop Desmond Tutu flew to Cape Town in hope of mediating in the dispute. "I am not a miracle worker, but maybe, just maybe, I can help," he said. Although he succeeded in talking with representatives of both sides, he said after touring the devastated shantytown, much of it still on fire, "It's desolation itself. . . . It's nightmarish, really nightmarish."
Almost 80,000 Homeless
Nearly 80,000 people are believed homeless following the clashes in which thousands of shacks were burned by the vigilantes.
In Parliament on Wednesday, Louis le Grange, the hard-line minister of law and order, declared the government's intention to enact controversial legislation authorizing him to take whatever action he regards as necessary to deal with the unrest.
A second bill will permit the police to arrest and detain anyone without charge or trial for six months if they believe he has been involved in any unrest or is likely to become involved in the future.