Percy Qoboza, the editor of the banned South African newspaper The World, was freed from prison here, yesterday - along with nine other black community leaders detained since October in a broad security crackdown.
Announcing their release in Cape Town Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger hinted that others among the 62 blacks arrested Oct. 19 under the Terrorism Act might also be released soon.
"If things still remain quiet or even become better, it would increase the possiblity of the release of others," he said.
Qoboza's arrest touched off an international furor and led to imposition of a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa by the United Nations. It also brought demands by many Western governments and leaders for release of Qoboza and those arrested with him.
Kruger said he had personally made the decision to free Qoboza without any conditions after talking with him at the Modder Bee Prison outside Johannesburg where the prisoners are being held. He said Qoboza was free to return to his profession.
'It depends on the people who employ him," he told parliament.
Qoboza's paper was banned the day of his arrest and the black mass circulation paper that has taken its place, The Post, is a mere shadow of The World.
Kruger also made a point of saying that all but one of the other nine freed yesterday were being released unconditionally and would be permitted to participate in the coming community council election in the huge black township of Soweto outside Johannesburg.
While they were being released unconditionally, however, Kruger said that their activities would be monitored by authorities.
The timing of the releases is belived to be part of the government's campaign to get the community councils on a sounder footing.
The community council election was understood to be the main reason for the decision to release the black leaders, two of whom are members of the banned Committee of Ten, th unofficial leadership body of Soweto.
The one person released yesterday whose activities will still be restricted is Dimza Pityana, whose husband, Barney, was a founder with the dead black leader Steve Biko of the Black People's Convention. Dimza Pityana was under a banning order at the time of her arrest and is to remain under the restriction. Her husband is still in detention.
The first local reaction to the releases came from Collin Eglin, opposition leader in Parliament, who welcomed the decision but asked about the fate of those still in detention.
"We should not forget that about 52 other people are still being held nor that the whole system of detention without trial is fundamentally wrong," he said.
There are around 300 officially acknowledged political prisoners being held under South Africa's internal security laws.
Qoboza was not immediately available for comment, but there was considerable speculation here that he would go abroad rather than attempt to work here under the prevailing harsh conditions for journalists.
In addition to Qoboza and Pityana, those released yesterday were: Allen Khuzwayo and V. Kraai, both members of the defunct Committee of Ten; Moses Chikane, a member of the banned South African Students Organization; Justus Legotlo, a Lutheran minsiter from Pretoria; G. Malaka, a leader of the Black People's Convention; and Kenneth Matima, Resecca Musi and T. V. Sehumi.
Absent from the list was Ntatho Motlana, chairman of the Committee of Ten. Kruger said he had seen Motlana in prison with the others but that he did not consider his case "to come in the same light" as that of Qoboza.
In part, at least, Kruger bowed to outside pressures in deciding to release Ooboza.
But this was not how the controversial justice minister explained his decision. He said the situation in the country had quieted down considerably since October and that this was the main reason for his decision.
Yesterday, however, a bomb exploded in Port Elizabeth, killing one black woman and injuring three others. It was the second bomb to go off there this week. The first killed the man who was carrying it. There has been a spate of urban terrorist bombings around the country.
Kruger said that he would ask for periodic reports on the situation in Soweto and other black townships and that this would determine his future decisions regarding more releases."
I would like to express the hope that circumstances will improve to such an extent that all the detainees will in time be released," he said.
In the Feb. 18 community council elections in Soweto, only two of 30 wards were contested and the voter turnout was just 6 percent.
This was interpreted as a massive silent protest by the 1.2 million residents of the township over the detention of those they regard as their real leaders and over the banning of the Committee of Ten. It was also taken to be an expression of passive resistance against the government's new scheme of elected community councils with enlarged powers.
It was after the poor election turnout that the Cabinet minister in charge of black relations, Connie Mulder, approached Kruger about the possibility of releasing some of the 62 political prisoners as a way of appeasing the black population.
But only two members of the Committee of Ten were freed yesterday, and it was not thought likely that this gesture would be enough to stir much additional interest in the next round of community council elections in scheduled soon.