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135 Arrested in S. Africa Protest of White Voting

May 05, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Riot police, using clubs, whips and tear gas, broke up a campus protest here Monday against South Africa's whites-only parliamentary elections scheduled this week. About 120 students and 15 reporters were arrested.

More than 6,000 white and black students had gathered on the lawn of the University of the Witwatersrand at lunchtime to hear Winnie Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist and wife of Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed African National Congress, speak against Wednesday's elections.

But police secured a last-minute order from a local magistrate banning the anti-government rally under the country's security laws, and officers ordered the students to end the meeting and leave the area.

A Thunderous 'Yes'

"Do you want her to speak?" asked James Seseko, a leader of the school's Black Students Society, saying that Mandela was prepared to defy the magistrate's order, and the students answered with a thunderous "Yes!"

When the students refused to disperse despite warnings from the police and pleas from faculty members, more than 100 helmeted riot officers around the periphery of the lawn moved in, whipping and clubbing the students, according to eyewitness accounts. Stones and bricks were then thrown at the police, the witnesses said, and students taunted them with shouts of "Viva ANC!" and jeers of "Nazis!"

The police replied with volleys of tear-gas grenades, which sent hundreds of crying, choking students, teachers and staff members running for safety, many heading for a large gymnasium with the police in pursuit. Police headquarters in Pretoria said later that 120 students had been arrested for public violence or attending an illegal gathering.

A second meeting of students and teachers on the steps of the university library was also broken up by police, who fired rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades at the group, according to witnesses. More clashes were also reported later in the day.

Mandela, dressed in a traditional red African robe, told newsmen later, "This is typical of South Africa today."

'Obstacle to Real Change'

She had intended to denounce as "irrelevant" and "another obstacle to real change" the coming elections for the whites' House of Assembly in South Africa's tricameral Parliament.

Placard-carrying students had joined members of the Black Sash civil rights group in lining one of the city's main thoroughfares during the morning rush hour. "One Person, One Vote," many of the posters said, and others read, "Children Need Peace," "Let's Start Talking" and "We Want Government by Consent." The demonstrators, watched by police, stood about 50 yards apart to avoid the ban on anti-government gatherings.

Such fundamental issues as the detention of children without charge have been ignored in the election debates, the Black Sash said in a statement, and the campaign instead was "pockmarked with trivia and astonishing racial hatred."

The protest at Witwatersrand University was the latest in a series on university campuses here and in Cape Town denouncing the elections and the South African raid 10 days ago on the Zambian town of Livingstone in which four people were killed. More demonstrations are planned for today and Wednesday, raising fears of greater clashes with the police.

Civil unrest has increased elsewhere in the last three weeks after several months of relative calm in the country's black townships. Government officials see this increase in unrest as an attempt by the African National Congress and its allies to disrupt the elections and discredit the results, and they tend to view all protests as part of "a coordinated campaign of political, diplomatic and military dimensions" by the ANC.

Police Commissioner's Warning

Gen. Johan Coetzee, the national police commissioner, warned that black radicals have made "plans to draw attention away from the elections as much as possible. The purpose is to try and make out that the elections are irrelevant," he told newsmen in Pretoria.

The expected protests, Coetzee said, include work stoppages, school boycotts, campus marches, the busing of black schoolchildren to polling stations and a variety of attempts to disrupt voting.

"Because we are aware of these actions, we have been able to be well prepared to handle any attempt to disrupt or discredit this election by means of violence and other illegal actions," Coetzee said.

At the university protests earlier Monday, five foreign television crews and photographers for two news services and two news magazines were detained by police for periods of up to three hours. Their film was seized, they said later, and they were warned that they faced possible prosecution under government regulations banning first-hand coverage of the civil unrest here.

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