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Black Sash leader attacks apartheid

By Michael J. Garrison

and Thomas T. Huang

Sheena Duncan, president of the South African anti-apartheid association Black Sash, yesterday addressed South Africa's consistent "attempt to prevent black political organization of any kind and to crush all black opposition."

The lecture marked the beginning of the Institute Colloquium Committee's planned fall series on South Africa.

Black Sash is a South African militant women's group organized against apartheid. It publishes a magazine and runs advice centers for those who run "afoul of the law," according to Robert I. Rotberg, professor of history and political science.

Duncan feels that "economic pressures are the main hope that we have for any early resolution of political conflict."

But she was unsure about the effect of the strategy of divestment, "although I very much value the pressure for divestiture ... because of the effect it has on companies."

She believes that international economic sanctions would be a persuasive force more powerful than company divestments. "In a way, the disinvestment issue has tended to obscure the others -- the political actions, the legislative action taken by governments -- that could actually have much more impact."

The South African business community has long kept silent about apartheid. "Apartheid has been in the interest of profits all along," she said. But business is now feeling the pressure, because of recent threats of economic sanctions, as well as the refusal of international banks to roll over South African loans, she added.

In a key reversal, external pressure caused Botha to reinstate citizenship for blacks, Duncan said. In 1976, the government revoked the South African citizenship from the blacks. The blacks instead received citizenship in separate homelands.


Duncan said the South African military has for some time been operating in a police capacity. "A new level of severity was reached on the 23rd of October last year when the army surrounded the black township of Sebokheng," she said.

It was the first time the army overtly entered into civilian affairs, she said. "The soldiers, who were armed with rifles, covered the police as the police entered every single house in that township," she described. "Each house was searched thoroughly, and every single person who was in that house at that time was checked [for violation of the pass laws] ... particularly if they were young."

Under Botha's streamlining of the government, the army has now become part of the executive arm, Duncan said. The National Security Council heads the decision-making and consists of military officials and only selected cabinet members.

In 1976, the government decided to ban outdoor gatherings, Duncan said. The state is trying to prohibit meetings of more than one person, because effective protests require much planning and organization, she explained. This, in turn, has led in part to the recent spontaneous street violence.

"Detention has become the normal way of life" in South Africa, Duncan said. She emphasized that young people, including students, are a particular target of police action.

The internal security act authorizes the detention of people up to 48 hours, she said. "Local leadership will be taken in and detained when any particular local protest or local event is planned," she said. "If you time the detention very carefully you can in fact hold people for more than 4 days ... [because] weekend hours are not counted within the 48."

Preventive detention allows the police to detain a person if they believe the person is planning to do something, she said. "You are automatically listed whey you are released ... and you may not be quoted."

"There is [also] the notorious section 29 which allows a person to be detained indefinitely for interrogation," she added.

According to the police, on Aug. 26, 517 people were held in detention, "and we are quite sure that does not include anyone who is being held under the 48 hour provision," she said.

South Africa's state of emergency, declared in July, allows any police officer to detain somebody if he believes the detainee is a danger to public safety. According to the police, 2414 people were detained under this act from July 21 to August 21, Duncan said.

The current state of affairs has seen increased military action in black townships, increased interaction between the military and the government, indefinite detention, the threat of international economic sanctions

Duncan wanted to place the recent movements in South Africa in the context of the repression in that country. To understand the repression, one needs "to get some picture of what's happening in the black communities."

I simply don't know the details. It's not my field.

I think that Americans and other western people are capable ... of stopping landing rights, looking hard at computer technology, ... looking at South Africa's inkspot

it important that the difference between P. W. Botha and his predecessors is that his priority is not of the common nationalism. His priority is the preservation of the capitalist system and the preservation of power .... That means that he is vulnerable to economic pressure in a way that his predecessors would not have been. I do not believe that Botha is the kind of person who would fight to the last drop of blood or put his back to the wall rather than come to an agreement in order to preserve economic growth.

"I have my doubts about the effect of ... this strategy [divestiture],

"I think much more important than what private companies are doing is actually for electorates to make sure that their governments do not step backwards from the limited steps [in economic sanctions] that they have taken.

"South Africa is no longer an attractive investment environment. I would actually be quite frightened of the effects of an across-the-board disinvestment."

On the divestment issue: There are two aspects. One is the whole moral issue. Do you want your pension fund to benefit from apartheid? That is repugnant for some people. The second thing is the strategic thing. By putting out your pension fund holding doing busienss in South Africa are you able to do that in such a way that that company is actually motivated to take political action. What if it does pull out, what will be the result? I am not ... [against] the Sullivan Principles. I think the Sullivan Principles are well-meant, very nice for an American company to get all of those things, but [are] not at all significant in terms of dismantling apartheid, which is what its all about.