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One Woman's Isolation in South African Cell

December 10, 1987|BRENDAN BOYLE | United Press International

JOHANNESBURG — Sue Lund, the daughter of liberal, middle-class white parents, has spent a year in a drab yellow-and-gray jail cell, held without charge as a threat to South Africa's national security.

The slight, dark-haired 25-year-old woman was detained Nov. 22 under emergency regulations by police who found her advising a group of elderly black men about their rights in a land dispute. She has no idea when her confinement will end.

"Sitting here day after day with no--nil, nothing, blank--pressure, no responsibilities, trivial projects, I feel completely ridiculous," she told her brother, Chris, in one of the two letters she is allowed to write each week.

Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok told Lund's lawyer that she could not be released because--in a judgment that cannot legally be challenged--she poses a threat to the security of the public.

'Very Liberal Family'

Lund's journey to a cell in the granite North End jail, which sits alongside a coastal highway to Port Elizabeth, began in the family where she was urged to think independently. She is one of about 100 white women among the 26,000 people detained for varying periods since the state of emergency was declared June 12, 1986.

"She comes from a very liberal family," said Janet Cherry, who shared a cell with Lund for eight months. "Both her parents are committed Christians who brought their children up to think for themselves and to be aware."

At the liberal Rhodes University, Lund became involved in the student society and became sensitive to the treatment of blacks because of nearby black townships.

"The townships are close to the white areas. You can't miss what happens there," Cherry said. "When the military moved in in 1984, it was very dramatic and obvious."

Vlok cited Lund's membership in what he called "alternative organizations" as a reason for her continued detention.

Opposing Conscription

Friends speculate that a major reason for her confinement could be that she was a supporter of the End Conscription Campaign, a legal but harassed pressure group.

The campaign is just one among dozens of anti-government groups in South Africa, but it has drawn particular attention because it opposes compulsory military service for whites, who are often required to fight anti-apartheid insurgents or to help control black ghettos caught up in a 3-year-old black revolt against white minority rule.

Just before her arrest, Lund had left a part-time teaching post at Rhodes to work full time with the Grahamstown Rural Committee in eastern Cape province.

There, her work involved mainly legal opposition to the government's continuing forced removal of blacks from areas reserved under apartheid for whites.

"Sue's detention seems so pointless, so vindictive," said her father, Anglican clergyman Vernon Lund. "They are not interrogating her. It seems all they are doing is punishing her.

Letter-Writing Drive

"My biggest frustration is that there is nothing I can really do," he said in an interview. A few days later, he placed an appeal in the anti-government Weekly Mail urging friends to write in protest to the Minister of Law and Order.

As part of the campaign, Lund allowed United Press International to read and publish selections from his daughter's letters, which chronicle the determination and the despair of a middle-class white South African woman for whom prison must always have seemed a fate that faced only criminals and revolutionaries.

The earlier letters are heavily scored by a prison censor's heavy black marker, but later letters show that Lund has learned what is and what is not acceptable.

Cherry, an anti-apartheid campaigner who was freed July 30 after months of international pressure by groups including Amnesty International, said she and Lund were held in a single cell on a separate corridor for whites in the women's section of the jail.

"It's not a solitary cell, it's about the size of an ordinary bedroom. Adjacent to the cell there is a small courtyard and adjacent to that a bathroom," she said.

"It is painted a dull, sickly yellow and gray, black floor. We made the cell very cheerful with brightly colored blankets, cloth and pictures. Sue has a whole row of ribbons in different colors, which she has hung up."

Solitary Confinement

Since Cherry's release, Lund has been held in solitary confinement and her study rights--she was working on a master's thesis in development studies--have been withdrawn.

"It is all somewhat devastating, as it filled so much of my daily routine," she said of the lost study rights. "I'm filling up the time with junk novels and making every other little thing I do--bathing, washing clothes, making the bed, eating meals--last as long as possible."

Once, she wrote her brother, she asked for permission to dye her hair black because "it filled up an afternoon."

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