The South African government remained silent today in the face of widespread foreign condemnation of its raid on members of the underground African National Congress in the neighboring state of Lesotho. The government appeared to be reassured by signs that its white electorate solidly supported the raid.
The only white South Africans to criticize the attack were church leaders representing the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian faiths.
They issued a joint statement expressing their concern that the government appeared to be increasingly using force instead of trying to deal with the social injustices that the clergy said were the real cause of unrest in South Africa. "Scripture warns us that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword," their statement said.
The white political opposition, normally outspoken in attacking the government's race policies and civil liberties violations, did not criticize the raid today.
The official opposition in Parliament, the Progressive Federal Party, remained silent except for a cautiously approving response by one of its members in a television interview.
Typifying the white opposition attitude, the Johannesburg Rand Daily Mail, traditionally the most liberal of the country's dailies, said it deplored the use of violence as an alternative to political negotiation. But, the paper said, it was difficult to censure the Defense Force for the attack since the African National Congress was committed to a strategy of trying to effect change through the barrel of a gun.
The largest South African daily, the Johannesburg Star, in an editorial that noted that the raid had taken place on the eve of Human Rights Day, asked cautiously: "The broader issue of self-defense will, of course, be used in defense of yesterday's raid . . . but are we really justified in taking such action to defend a political system that has to feed on the freedom and happiness of people to sustain itself?"
The progovernment Afrikaans-language newspapers were supportive. Some noted that there could be no military solution to South Africa's problems but added that the search for a political solution required a strong military backup.
None of the newspapers has yet questioned the Defense Force's claim that the raid was justified because there was an influx of African National Congress insurgents into Lesotho during the past month with plans to launch a campaign of terrorism against South Africa.
Lesotho has asserted that the people killed were refugees who had lived there a long time and not guerrillas that had recently arrived. There has been no comment, however.
The tone of the white response has angered Bishop Desmond Tutu, a black and the politically prominent general secretary of the Council of Churches. Addressing a Human Rights Day gathering in Johannesburg, Tutu, a former bishop of Lesotho, accused white South Africans of enjoying a sense of self-congratulation over the raid.
Meanwhile, the Lesotho government today said it had found more bodies in the 12 houses and apartments that were attacked by the South Africans, bringing to 42 the number of people it reported were killed.
A police statement said 12 of these were Lesotho citizens. It also said three more people had been found injured and a number of South African refugees and Lesotho citizens were missing.