There is no fraternizing with the South African police in this riot-torn black township. Whenever one of their big armored vehicles in its camouflage coloring drives slowly past, conversation breaks and there is an uneasy stir, but no one turns to look.
The "hippos," as the police are called, are treated with studied indifference. Unless the police stop to question someone, nothing is said. Life goes on, looking the other way.
The biggest armed crackdown on political dissent ever staged in South Africa swept through Sebokeng last week, but the inhabitants of this segregated township 40 miles south of Johannesburg appear unbowed.
The homes and shops of their township, however, have proven less resilient. Sebokeng has been devastated, as if by bombardment. The shells of burned-out buildings are everywhere. The destruction was wrought not by the South African authorities, but by the residents of Sebokeng themselves.
For nearly two months, local blacks -- angered by rent increases, poor schools and the implementation of a new South African constitution that continues to deny them political rights -- have been embroiled in the country's worst race rioting since the Soweto disturbances of 1976.
Here, where the South African government has decreed that blacks must run the townships themselves, the vast majority of blacks has refused to participate. They brand those who do as "puppets." The homes and businesses of these blacks, who were considered to have profited from their positions, have all been razed.
In the poorest quarter of the township is the gutted shell of the house of one local black government leader. Among the surrounding shanties, his house must have been seen as an ostentatious mansion. It had a slate roof and Italian-tile floors. Now it is a blackened ruin, with the scorched hulks of four cars on the spacious grounds.
This was the scene last week during a rare tour of Sebokeng by a white reporter. Led by a group of black student activists, the tour afforded a firsthand look at the ravages of rioting that has killed 69 persons, including seven black children and a 3-week-old white baby whose mother's car was stoned by a mob when she drove her domestic servant home.
The tour also offered a sense of how blacks here have reacted to last Tuesday's massive raid, when the police and Army sent in 7,000 men to search every house for "revolutionary elements" the South African authorities said were behind the unrest. Judging from interviews here, the mood of the people of Sebokeng is one of continued defiance.
"This was a show of power, an attempt to intimidate the people into complying with the authorities' wishes, but I don't think it has succeeded," said Lord McCamel, the founder of a popular religious sect here who has emerged as the leader of what might be called the community's resistance movement.
Others present at a meeting of the Vaal Ministers' Solidarity Committee agreed. "The mood to resist is, if anything, stronger than ever since the raid," said Peter Lenkoe, a young Anglican minister who is a friend of Bishop Desmond M. Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The ministers' words were born out Saturday, when police clashed with a crowd that had attended the funeral of one of the riot victims. Police said 52 persons were arrested after a stoning incident. They were released later.
Themes of faith and rebellion have become intertwined in South Africa's black community. In this densely populated region known as the Vaal Triangle, the focal point of local resistance to South Africa's segregationist system called apartheid is the interdenominational committee of ministers.
Both ministers and students said that last Tuesday's raid, in which about 225,000 people in Sebokeng and its neighboring townships of Sharpeville and Boipatong were searched, had failed in all its objectives.
Its main aim, as stated by Law and Order Minister Louis Le Grange, was to eliminate "revolutionary elements." Yet of the 358 persons arrested, none has been charged under the security laws. More than 300 have been released after paying fines of between $14 and $17 for minor violations. While Army troops pulled out Tuesday night, police in battle dress holding automatic rifles continue to cruise the streets in armored troop carriers.
The raid was also intended to put an end to a school boycott by students and to a refusal by the residents to pay increased rents for their state-owned houses. White authorities insist that the school boycott and the rent strike were the result of "agitators" intimidating a reluctant majority. Both protest campaigns seem unaffected by the raid and large-scale arrests.
Student leaders of the school boycott said in interviews that they were protesting against inferior education for blacks. They vowed not to return to school this year.
Asked whether they were not worried about falling behind with their schooling, Jacob Tsaori, 17, an executive member of a black student organization called Cosas, gave a reply whose clumsy syntax bespoke his education.
"It does not worry us that we stay out of school," he said. "We all know that we are getting rotten education. We all know that one who is taught to drive a ship is a sailor, but we are not taught to drive a ship. The white children are taught how to drive a ship, and then we think they are brilliant and supreme."
The rent strike is continuing although authorities suspended rent increases on Tuesday. Residents are now demanding a reduction in rents, from an average of $45 to $17 a month for their boxy little houses, many of which have no running water and some no electricity.
Asked for their analysis of what has caused Sebokeng to erupt so violently, members of the committee painted a picture of a marginal community that has been alienated by the apartheid system and then driven too far by white officials.
There is a lot of unemployment in the Vaal Triangle, an industrial region where there has been heavy retrenchment during the economic recession. The cost of living is the highest in the country, and the rents here are higher than in many townships.
In this tight situation, blacks resent the white government's mandate that the townships must become financially self-supporting. Many blacks contend that since apartheid is the white man's invention he should bear the costs of the separate facilities it requires.
Local black councils have been established for self-rule, but their elections have been boycotted heavily. There was only a 15 percent turnout for the council election in Sebokeng. When the council announced a rent increase at the end of August to pay for upgraded services, black council members became targets of the pent-up frustration here.
Four of them were killed in the rioting, including Deputy Mayor Sam Dlamini, who was beaten to death on his doorstep. Mayor Esau Mahlatsi fled for his life and is still living under police guard.
Because the councilors were considered to have given themselves a monopoly on township trading rights, every business establishment in Sebokeng was looted and destroyed.
Although the burning of shops may have started out as retribution against councilors who levied higher rents on a struggling community while they lived in luxury, it appears that it became indiscriminate as mob fever took hold. Medical clinics were among buildings wrecked.
"I think that was a mistake," one of the student escorts said. "People looted the liquor stores and got drunk. Then it became bad."
The government has said it had to intervene Tuesday because it could not allow the lawlessness to continue. But there are no visible signs that the massive raid has done anything to remove the causes of the outburst.