The morning news program on South Africa's state-run radio station usually skirts controversy, but one day last week white South Africans tuned in to hear a pungent condemnation of apartheid as "ungodly" and a denunciation of their government as a "terroristic dictatorship."
The speaker was American civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is on a 12-day tour of this country and making more of a stir among both blacks and whites than any American political figure to come here in many years. Some are comparing his impact to that of Robert Kennedy when he visited in 1966.
Among whites, Jackson is not going down well at all. A rightist group called South Africa First cabled their denunciation of the "demagogue Jesse Jackson" to the South African Broadcasting Corp. and demanded the resignation of those who had allowed him to air "his odious views on prime time."
Politician John Wiley, leader of the small conservative South African Party, demanded that the government immediately cancel the visa of Jackson - "this man who has a long record of association with communist and allied organizations in and out of the U.S."
Foreign Minister Pik Botha today said Jackson's statements are a result of his own "personal frustration at being unable to do anything positive about the high unemployment among black youths in America," according to the Afrikaans newspaper Beeld.
"He knows very well that, in these fields, a lifetime of work is awaiting him in his own country," Botha said. "He is apparently trying to steer clear of these problems by sputtering gall in South Africa."
[The South African charge d'affaires in Washington Thursday complained to the U.S. government about Jackson's statements, a State Department official said. He said the South African envoy stopped short of asking the United States to take any specific action regarding Jackson and that the State Department "had no particular response" to the complaints. "Jesse Jackson is a private citizen and he can't be instructed how to behave by the U.S. government," the American official said.]
Jackson, former aide to Martin Luther King Jr. and now head of the civil rights group People United to Save Humanity (PUSH), has come to South Africa at a time when black political activity has not yet recovered from the banning of 18 black organizations and detentions of more than 50 black leaders in October 1977. The police practice of detaining anyone who attempts any meaningful political organizing has left urban black communities politically rudderless and inactive.
"There is a basic fear now; people don't know where they stand," said black minister Rev. Benjamin Ngidi who belongs to the United Congregational Church that invited Jackson here. Referring to the upheavals in Soweto and other urban black townships in 1976 and 1977 that left more than 700 people dead, Ngidi said "People are now beginning to ask the question, were we right to do it or were we wrong.... That Jackson came at this time when people are reassessing what they did will help Soweto to decide if we were right or wrong."
Jackson has come with a powerfully evocative speaking style, a commitment to black emancipation in South Africa and a proximity to the ear of President Carter. He also has a reputation as a civil rights activist who worked with King, a man revered as a hero by blacks here, many of whom eagerly play records of his speeches for visitors on their battery-operated phongraphs.
With these assets, Jackson is giving black audiences the first injection of encouragement they have heard in almost two years.
"Apartheid is worse than Hitler," Jackson told a group of black and white clergy. "Hitler was a man for a season. Once he was exposed, he was rejected. But apartheid is a system of legal extermination...with social acceptance and protection and in cooperation with the great powers of the world."
"Apartheid is violence by definition.... Ultimately in its arrogance it challenges God's right to make a black person," he proclaimed.
"Amen" and "hear, hear" punctuated his sermon in a modernistic church hall in the tiny village of Hammanskraal in the heartland of Afrikaner country, where support of the government's apartheid policy among whites is as firm as the land the people farm. Afterwards, the mainly black audience mobbed Jackson to shake his hand.
Equally enthusiastic crowds greeted Jackson at the shanty squatter site of Crossroads in Cape Town and the black township of Soweto, where he visited two high schools whose students had played a leading role in the 1976 demonstrations. Afterward, they said Jackson had encouraged them.
"He said just because we live in a slum is no reason we should have slummy minds," one student put it.
For some of the more radical youth, however, suspicious of political theory couched in theological vocabulary and unsympathetic to peaceful protest as a means to effect change, Jackson is regarded as naive and outdated.
"He's just another American black preacher," said one militant black. "This situation calls for a Black Panther, not a black preacher."
Nevertheless, the government has ignored pleas to revoke Jackson's visa. In a surprisingly independent response to conservative opinion, a spokesman for the South African Broadcasting Corp. said, "It was a bold step of the government to grant him a visa and it should also be seen as a bold step by the (radio program) to invite him to take part." He said the station had received calls both criticizing and congratulating it for letting Jackson air his views.
The visit of the black leader is another sign of an unannounced relaxation recently of the government's visa restrictions against critics of apartheid. Others who have profited from the more open visa policy so far this year include black civil rights lawyer Millard Arnold, head of the Washington-based Lawyers Committee for Southern Africa which monitors political trials here, and University of Indiana academician Gwendolen Carter who was last allowed into the country in 1975.
As a precautionary measure, Jackson has been accompanied by members of South Africa's security police in civilian clothes since he arrived July 19. Jackson said he had received threats, and a well-informed source said Jackson had requested the police protection.
Since he arrived, Jackson has met with Zulu chief Gatsha Buthelezi, Angelican Bishop Desmond Tutu and Soweto spokesman Nthato Motlana. American and South African businessmen and bankers have also co-opted some of his time to speack of business in South Africa. Jackson's civil rights group has advocated that American banks stop giving loans to the capital-starved South African economy.
Jackson also met Black Affairs Minister Piet Koornof, a spokesman for the reformist section of the ruling National Party. Afterward he praised Koornhof's "integrity" and "courage," but said he thought "his ability to deliver [reforms] is limited and this is the fundamental question."
A request to meet with Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha and to vist the political prison of Robben Island have not been granted so far. CAPTION: Picture, The Rev. Jesse Jackson addresses students at Soweto's Orlando High School during his controversial tour of South Africa. UPI