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S. Africa Sentences Cleric to 11 Years for Terrorism

May 26, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A top official of the United Democratic Front, a coalition of 700 anti-apartheid groups, was sentenced Monday to 11 years in prison as a terrorist for allegedly assisting the outlawed African National Congress.

The Rev. Arnold Stofile, a Presbyterian minister, professor of theology and general secretary of the front in the East London region, was the first top-level leader of the group to be convicted under the security laws. His trial took place in the nominally independent tribal homeland of Ciskei.

Two others, the front's general secretary, Popo Molefe, and its publicity secretary, Patrick Lekota, are on trial at Delmas, east of Johannesburg. Both are charged with treason.

Other front officials, most of whom are underground if not in detention, now fear a harsh crackdown, perhaps a full effort to break the front as the leading anti-apartheid group.

"If the management of the UDF starts supporting violence, it is only a matter of time before the UDF starts increasing the level of violence," Judge Benjamin de Villiers Pickard, a South African serving as acting chief justice of Ciskei, said in his judgment.

This statement reflected the government view that the United Democratic Front, since its inception four years ago, has been a front for the African National Congress in its fight against continued minority white rule.

Brother Convicted

Stofile, 42, was convicted along with his younger brother, Linda, 28, and Nelson Ndela, 32, an alleged guerrilla of the African National Congress. They were charged with conspiring to further the ANC's aims and to overthrow the Ciskei government.

A fourth man, Gladwell Gqibitole, 28, was also convicted of terrorism.

Linda Stofile and Gqibitole were each sentenced to eight years in prison and Ndela to 15. All had pleaded innocent to charges of treason, terrorism and illegal possession of arms.

Stofile, testifying in his own defense, earlier reiterated the United Democratic Front's commitment to use only nonviolent means to fight for majority rule in a united South Africa. He noted that the group has not been outlawed, although many of its members have been detained.

The African National Congress, founded in 1912, turned to violence only after it was banned in 1960, Stofile said.

Two witnesses, one a French teacher who worked with Stofile at Ciskei's Fort Hare University, were sentenced in March to four years in prison after refusing to testify for the prosecution in the three-month trial.

Another state witness, who was one of nine heard in secret and was described only as Mr. W, returned to the stand to confess that he lied in his original testimony against Stofile and the others.

New Union Formed

Another prominent anti-apartheid activist, Moses Mayekiso, now awaiting trial on charges of treason, was elected general secretary over the weekend of the new, 130,000-member National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. The union, formed by the merger of six smaller labor unions, is now the country's second largest.

Mayekiso, a community leader in Alexandra, a black ghetto on the outskirts of Johannesburg, had been the general secretary of the Metal and Allied Workers Union as well as a key organizer of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, a labor federation with more than 700,000 members.

In another development, more than 100 political detainees, held without charge under South Africa's emergency regulations, have undertaken a hunger strike in protest against alleged government attempts to transfer them to "re-education camps" where, they say, they will be brainwashed.

In a letter smuggled out of Modderbee Prison, east of Johannesburg, the detainees say they are protesting plans "to send us to the so-called re-education camps for the purpose of brainwashing and re-politicizing us."

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