An angry Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha said last night that the government would withdraw the passport of black Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu because of his public remarks about South Africa during a current U.S. visit.
Tutu is general secretary of the South African Council of Churches that represents some 15 million Christians, of whom 80 percent are black. He is one of the most outspoken black critics of the white-minority government here.
While in Washington, Tutu talked with Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and the assistant secretary of state-designate for Africa, Chester Crocker.
Botha, speaking to about 2,000 supporters of his ruling National Party at an election campaign meeting in the mining town of Welkom, was asked why the bishop was allowed to go overseas and make critical statements about South Africa.
"As far as I am concerned," Botha replied, "his passport will be withdrawn when he returns." His audience applauded and the action is sure to win Botha votes in the April 29 election. But it will also be a factor in the current U.S. review of policy toward South Africa.
According to reports in the local press, Tutu told U.S. policy makers that blacks were distressed by signs that Washington is going to be more friendly toward Pretoria than under the Carter administration. Tutu has also been quoted as saying, "The April election in South Africa is the last all-white election they will hold. We will have a black prime minister in five or ten years."
But what undoubtedly has angered the government the most is Tutu's support for sanctions against South Africa such as withdrawal of investments. He has indicated a belief that these are the last peaceful ways to force the government to make meaningful changes in its racial policies.
While overseas, Tutu was quoted here as saying that it was "humbug" for foreign investors to believe they were helping black South Africa when in reality "they must know they are investing to buttress one of the most vicious systems since Nazism." The companies have underlined the job-creating benefits of their investments.
In an interview in Washington Friday, Tutu said that in his talks with U.S. officials he had raised "the general unease at the new directions of (U.S.) Africa policy." He said that as South African authorities had anticipated more favorable treatment from Washington, Pretoria had been encouraged to scuttle talks in Geneva in January on independence for Namibia.
In particular, Tutu said, he was disturbed by President Reagan's public indications that the United States would stand by South Africa and indications of possible U.S. support for UNITA rebels seeking to overthrow the Cuban-backed government in Angola.
[During his meeting with Crocker, Tutu said, he had been told that the Reagan administration would not support nor respond to pressure on U.S. companies to decrease their South African investments as a protest against that government's racial policies.]
Under a statute that gives a sweeping definition to "terrorism," promoting disinvestment or economic sanctions is a crime in South Africa.
Besides being one of the most sensitive issues as far as the government is concerned, foreign investment is also one of the most divisive among blacks. Other black leaders regard it as a way to bring about change in this country. Tutu, however, speaks for a significant number of blacks, particularly young activists in the urban areas.
It is not the first time Tutu has crossed swords with the government. His passport was withdrawn a year ago after he refused to publicly retract a statement he made in Copenhagen in 1977 urging the Danish government to stop buying South African coal.
Tutu's passport was returned to him just before his current trip overseas "as a favor which the state did him and not as a responsibility," Botha said last night.
Last year, Botha accused the South African Council of Churches, which is the only national organization regularly articulating black grievances, of distributing money to promote unrest and accused it of being involved in "an onslaught on the developing order in South Africa."