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Foreign Gifts Allowed for Apartheid Foes : Court Clears Way for United Democratic Front to Solicit Abroad

May 09, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A government ban on foreign contributions to the United Democratic Front, South Africa's largest anti-apartheid group, was lifted Friday by a provincial Supreme Court judge. The organization said it will immediately resume fund-raising abroad to finance new campaigns.

Justice John Didcott of the Natal provincial Supreme Court ruled in Durban that the government failed to comply with the law last October when it declared the United Democratic Front an "affected organization" and as such prohibited from receiving foreign funds, which constituted more than half of its $1.5-million annual budget.

President Pieter W. Botha had relied on a security police investigation of the United Democratic Front and its finances, Didcott said, rather than a report by the Justice Ministry as required by law. This, he said, made the state's whole action "null and void."

Azar Cachalia, the United Democratic Front's treasurer, said the organization will undertake an international fund-raising drive as soon as possible and then attempt to resume many of the activities curtailed in recent months as a result of the government crackdown.

"Certainly, this must be seen as a setback for Botha, even if it is a temporary one and the government reimposes the ban or wins its appeal," Cachalia, a Johannesburg lawyer, said. "Who, even among its supporters, can respect a government that disregards its own laws?"

Although he ruled on narrow, almost technical grounds, the case was of the utmost political importance to the country, Didcott added.

Government attorneys said they will appeal Didcott's decision, the latest in a series of embarrassing legal setbacks for the government in its effort to curtail anti-government groups.

But the ruling will probably also prompt Botha to press Parliament as soon as it reconvenes on May 18 for new legislation strictly controlling foreign funds received by opposition groups for political purposes.

Botha said in a television interview after his National Party's dramatic victory in parliamentary elections this week--it won three-quarters of the seats--that the government will take "a very strong stand on extra-parliamentary actions (promoting political change) as well as the financing of these organizations from outside our country."

Seeks Nonviolent Solutions

A predominantly white opposition group, the Five Freedoms Forum, said in reply Friday that it and similar organizations were "seeking nonviolent solutions for South Africa" and that the real threat to the country comes from the politics of fear and hatred.

The United Democratic Front, a coalition of 700 anti-apartheid groups, has received extensive contributions from foreign churches, trade unions, human rights organizations, charitable foundations and some European governments, particularly in Scandinavia, since it was formed in 1983.

The United States, which operates one of the largest foreign assistance programs in South Africa, with an annual budget of more than $25 million, is concerned about the threatened restrictions on foreign funds, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria said Friday.

They said that U.S. government attorneys recently reviewed the program, particularly its controversial "human rights fund," which finances projects meant to promote political and social change, to ensure that it complies with South African law and to see how it might be protected from new legislation.

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