SOWETO, South Africa — Soweto residents decided amid rising tensions Wednesday to defy police orders and hold a mass funeral here today for 24 blacks killed by police last week in a night of fierce street fighting.
With the South African government determined to prevent such a large funeral, fears were widespread of renewed clashes between the police and black militants.
Angry residents of Soweto's White City district said after meeting Wednesday evening with local clergymen and officials of the United Democratic Front, a coalition of anti-apartheid groups, that they will proceed with the funeral in a local sports stadium this morning despite a police ban, imposed Tuesday, on such political funerals.
"They murder our sons and then tell us we must bury them like lepers," the sister of one youth, a 17-year-old high school student, said, reflecting the mood of the meeting at St. Paul's Anglican Church. "This we will not accept. The community is with us, and the funeral will proceed."
Court Rejects Request
The families had waited from 8:30 a.m. to nearly 4 p.m. at Soweto police headquarters Wednesday, hoping to get permission for the funeral, but were eventually turned away without seeing Brig. Gideon Laubscher, the regional commander.
A Supreme Court judge in Johannesburg later rejected a request by the families and local clergymen for an order permitting the funeral and ruled that Laubscher has authority under the current state of emergency to ban it.
Groups of youths toured Soweto late Wednesday, distributing leaflets calling on residents to stay home from work today and "bury our dead." Hundreds of youths poured into Soweto, a sprawling ghetto of nearly 2 million, through the day from other black townships around Johannesburg and Pretoria and from as far away as Durban and Port Elizabeth.
In Cape Town, Louis le Grange, the minister of law and order, told Parliament that under no circumstances will the police permit a mass funeral, saying that it would only become an anti-government forum for radicals.
Called Political Events
"We are not prepared to allow the African National Congress and the United Democratic Front to take over funerals and turn them into political events that have nothing whatever to do with the families of the dead," Le Grange said.
But opposition politicians denounced the police for what one called their "utter lack of sensitivity" and warned the government that the ban on a mass funeral would lead to further bloodshed.
"To forbid a mass funeral in a tightly knit community and to insist on separate funerals is challenging Soweto to commit civil disobedience," Helen Suzman of the Progressive Federal Party told Parliament. "All these restrictions, which I doubt will be observed, will lead to further confrontation with the police."
The police, meanwhile, reimposed severe restrictions on all news reports on security force actions to deal with the country's continuing political violence.
Press Further Restricted
Gen. Johan Coetzee, the national police commissioner, issued orders under the 12-week-old state of emergency prohibiting any news reports on broadly defined "security actions" without written police permission. He also barred newsmen from firsthand coverage of any unrest or any "restricted gathering," such as the Soweto funeral today.
The restrictions, in effect, make it illegal to report anything except what the government says on police or army actions to quell the unrest, now beginning its third year. The orders apply equally to the South African news media and to foreign correspondents reporting from here. Those violating the regulations can be imprisoned for 10 years, fined $8,000 or both.
The new regulations replace others declared invalid two weeks ago because of a legal technicality, but go well beyond them in defining what newsmen may not report or comment upon.
The government's Bureau for Information, which earlier Wednesday had boasted of the success the police were having in restoring law and order through most of the country, refused to say why the restrictions were reimposed and extended.
But Peter Soal, a member of Parliament from the Progressive Federal Party, suggested that the government was angered when its own reports of the Soweto clashes last week proved "false, deceptive and deliberately misleading" and, anticipating further unrest, is "taking steps to ensure the truth remains hidden from both South Africans and the world."
Whites Approve Curbs
Under the new restrictions, which require written police permission to publish anything on the continuing political unrest here and police efforts to deal with it, the Information Bureau's own assessment of the unrest situation may not be published. A police spokesman said he was not prepared to give written permission Wednesday night.