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S. Africa Orders 2 British TV Reporters to Leave

May 15, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Two British television correspondents were ordered Thursday to leave South Africa amid mounting indications of a further government crackdown on the news media--foreign and domestic--and on the left-wing opposition.

The correspondents for the British Broadcasting Corp. and Independent Television News were told to leave the country within 10 days. The order followed strong government objections to the BBC and ITN coverage of student clashes with the police here and in Cape Town over last week's whites-only parliamentary elections.

The expulsion order coincided with press reports of what the Johannesburg Star, the country's largest daily newspaper, described as "a sweeping security clampdown on trade unions, universities, organizations using foreign funds for domestic political purposes and 'alternative media' publications."

No Reason Given

Stoffel Botha, the minister of home affairs, gave no reason for his decision to expel Michael Buerk, 41, the BBC television correspondent, and Peter Sharp, 40, of ITN. Both were told that their work permits will not be renewed.

Both newsmen had been told two weeks ago by Stoffel van der Merwe, the deputy minister for information, that the government thought their reports on pre-election campus protests and on clashes between police and striking railway workers had violated regulations that prohibit firsthand coverage of unrest and the filming of police action.

Buerk and Sharp replied that their lawyers had advised them that the regulations were no longer in force after successful court challenges. The government, however, maintains that the regulations are valid until its appeals against the court decisions are heard.

The government has long contended that foreign news coverage of the country's continuing unrest, particularly television coverage, is biased in favor of black militants and that it promotes their cause abroad and thus brings more violence.

The Johannesburg Star said the government had decided on the expulsions at a meeting earlier in the week at which it was also decided to reformulate emergency regulations declared invalid by the courts.

Botha to Address Parliament

The scope of the government's intent, following the ruling National Party's election victory, is expected to become clear Tuesday when President Pieter W. Botha addresses the Parliament.

Botha and members of his Cabinet have already said that legislation will be introduced prohibiting the use of foreign funds for domestic political purposes and that labor laws will be amended to restrict the political activities of trade unions.

Responding to a strong swing to the right by the white voters, the government also appears ready to act against violators of the Group Areas Act, a cornerstone of apartheid that racially segregates residential areas.

Authorities are threatening to seize and sell property occupied by blacks in areas zoned for whites--mostly apartments in downtown areas but also some luxury suburban homes occupied by the black executives of multinational companies--in what seems to be a move to appease the far right, which polled an unprecedented 27% of the votes, half that of the ruling National Party.

Moves are also under way within the government to halt a campaign of "corporate civil disobedience" by U.S. and European companies that, as a matter of political protest, have in recent years ignored dozens of apartheid laws and regulations, including the Group Areas Act.

"No government can tolerate a situation where there are patently deliberate actions aimed at challenging the law," an official told The Citizen, a pro-government Johannesburg newspaper.

New regulations, adopted under the state of emergency, are widely expected to restrict press coverage of civil unrest and the activities and statements of the government's opposition outside Parliament.

Cabinet members, reportedly meeting for a second day in Cape Town this week, reviewed recent press coverage in the wake of court decisions that invalidated previous regulations and, according to well-informed political sources, decided not only to "plug the loopholes" but also to adopt more sweeping measures.

Police Role in Censorship

The first step, announced Thursday, was the transfer to police headquarters in Pretoria of authority to censor news reports on unrest. Previously, a special interdepartmental committee at the government's Bureau for Information acted as the official censor, although most news organizations relied on the advice of their lawyers. Police headquarters will also resume issuing the daily reports on political violence around the country, replacing the Bureau for Information.

Meanwhile, in Soweto, the black satellite city outside Johannesburg, the government moved Thursday to break a year-old rent strike by serving legal notices on Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and other prominent anti-apartheid activists to pay the utility charges, rent and taxes they owe within a specified period or face eviction.

Sisulu, co-president of the United Democratic Front coalition of 700 anti-apartheid groups and the wife of Walter Sisulu, one of the imprisoned leaders of the African National Congress, said: "They think they are going to break us and that through us they will break the rent boycott, but that's crazy. . . . Anyway, I told the policemen that I would see them in court."

The rent strike has virtually bankrupted the Soweto city council, and the local politicians' inability to end the protest has deprived them of what little authority they had.

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