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Analysis : S. Africa Emergency Rule: No Quick End : Harsh Crackdown Could Last Months as Regime Pursues Goals

June 28, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Some South Africans, even within President Pieter W. Botha's National Party, had hoped that the state of emergency imposed on June 12 would be relaxed by June 30 and lifted sometime next month. But it is becoming clear that the state of emergency will be tougher and will last longer than perhaps anyone had expected.

Louis le Grange, the minister of law and order, told a political rally Thursday that the government is determined to enforce emergency rule "relentlessly" and does not intend to lift it before law and order are fully restored to the riot-torn country.

Now people close to the government talk of restoring political and civil liberties, possibly in December.

The realization also is growing, even among the white minority, of what emergency rule can mean as the government orders its critics to "toe the line" or face summary punishment. What has been imposed is akin to martial law, with the government assuming the right to detain people without trial, seize businesses and close newspapers.

But the government's strategy, despite its daily claims of less and less violence, was never aimed at a quick fix. From the outset of the state of emergency, those at the top knew that severe, not to say harsh, measures would be involved, including mass detentions of black activists and community leaders, and that many months would be required if these actions were to be effective.

The time bought through the crackdown could be used, the government believed, to end nearly two years of rioting and restore order, to stabilize the black communities and draw their "moderate" leaders into a political dialogue. It could also be used to reassure frightened whites and win a mandate from them for broader reforms, and then to begin negotiations on a constitutional formula for what Botha calls "power sharing."

In declaring the state of emergency, Botha said his purpose was "to create a situation of relative normality so that every citizen can perform his daily tasks in peace, the business community can fulfill its role and the reform program to which the government has committed itself can be continued."

The government's basic goals were, in fact, just two:

--After nearly two years of increasing unrest, sometimes bordering on civil war, the Botha government felt that it had to restore its receding authority throughout the country with whatever force was required.

--Amid unprecedented political challenges both at home and abroad, the government felt that it needed to reassert its legitimacy, silencing as many as possible of its domestic critics, black and white, and restricting news of internal developments conveyed to the outside world.

Goals Still Elusive

But, after two weeks of emergency rule, these goals seem nearly as elusive as before.

Despite the government's daily claims that the level of violence is dropping sharply--claims that it refuses to let newsmen verify by traveling freely in black areas and covering the unrest firsthand--72 people by the government's count have been killed in the past 16 days. This average of 4.5 deaths a day is lower than the 6.8 a day recorded in May, but about the same as the daily average since January and twice that of last year.

Other indications of the security situation around the country have come in recent days, with the imposition of nighttime curfews on wide areas of eastern Cape province, the Orange Free State and the troubled tribal homeland of Kwandebele. The government also postponed for two weeks the reopening of urban black schools, which long have been centers of anti-apartheid activities.

Those black townships around Johannesburg and Pretoria where the travel ban has been lifted did appear subdued during a tour of 16 of them this week, but it was the tranquility that an occupation army might have imposed on a conquered nation.

A 'Sullen Peace'

"No state of emergency has produced peace and stability," Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate, commented a week ago, describing the situation in Soweto as a "sullen peace."

Winnie Mandela, wife of the imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, went further in a television interview broadcast in London. She described the state of emergency as "a declaration of war" on blacks. The state of emergency "can do nothing less than promote the very situation (of rebellion) that the government is trying to prevent," she said.

Nevertheless, the government, according to senior officials and Nationalist members of Parliament, believes that it is winning an important "test of strength" with black militants and that victory--or defeat--will change the course of South African history.

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