Former tennis star Arthur Ashe and 46 other protestors against apartheid, including teachers from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, were arrested yesterday outside the South African Embassy during a continuing protest that was joined by three recently released black trade union leaders from South Africa.
Ashe, 41, who has traveled widely in South Africa, said he identifies with those who suffer under that country's apartheid policies because he had grown up in Virginia when racial segregation was legal in the United States.
"I speak with a great deal of personal experience," said Ashe, a founder of Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid. "I went through a segregated school system and a segregated society."
In New York, police arrested 41 demonstrators, including Edward Bloustein, president of Rutgers University, and Alan Karcher, speaker of the New Jersey state assembly, during a protest outside the South African consulate. Such protests have been held there every weekday afternoon since Dec. 3.
The embassy protest drew here more than 150 supporters yesterday, and the list of those arrested was the largest since demonstrations began on Nov. 21. So far 608 demonstrators, including 195 here, have been arrested in protests that have been held in more than a dozen cities.
Yesterday's marchers, who picketed and chanted one block south of the embassy's Massachusetts Avenue NW complex, included members of the Maryland State Teachers Association, the American Federation of State, County and Muncipal Employees and the National Alliance of Third World Journalists.
Randall Robinson, coordinator of the Free South Africa Movement, said during a news conference just before the arrests that demonstrators would continue the protest at the embassy until all South African political prisoners, including some jailed for more than 20 years, are freed and the white minority government agrees to discussions about sharing power with the black majority.
Three former South African prisoners, arrested during antiapartheid demonstrations in that country last November but released from detention after similar protests began here, joined the embassy demonstrators yesterday and praised U.S. protestors for helping their cause.
"We want the American people to know we appreciate what you're doing for us," said Phiroshaw Camay, 37, general secretary of Council of Unions of South Africa.
Camay said that he and other arrested union leaders were kept in solitary confinement for three weeks. He attributed his release to stepped-up apartheid protests by U.S. demonstrators.
"Americans are serious now," said John Gomomo, another recently freed South African union leader. "It shows you feel that as long as South Africans are not free, you are not free."
Janice Piccinini, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said that members of her union had agreed to be "messengers" to the embassy and volunteer for arrest "because we cannot stand idly by while a morally blind government of the privileged few denies children, because of their race, the opportunity to develop as free, educated men and women."
Another of those arrested, Maxine Waters, a member of the California State Assembly, has introduced legislation that would remove state pension funds from U.S. firms that do business with South Africa.
Waters predicted that similar bills will be introduced in legislatures around the country.