Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, speaking one day after the government banned political funerals in many black townships, said today that he was ready to defy the ban and go to jail.
Addressing a funeral crowd of about 8,000 in Tumahole township, which lies just outside the emergency area and is not subject to the ban, Tutu made an emotional appeal to the white-minority government to lift the restriction, which he said would worsen the country's racial crisis by creating a new point of confrontation.
"I beg the authorities: don't test us," Tutu implored. "I don't want to break the laws of this land, but if they pass laws which are quite unjust, quite intolerable, then I will break that law, even if it means that I have to go to jail."
It was a day of intensified racial conflict, with a black civil rights lawyer reportedly shot dead by four hooded gunmen in a Durban township and a black police officer killed in a shootout with a guerrilla band near the port city of East London.
Friends of the civil rights lawyer, Victoria Nxenge, 43, said she was shot dead by four gunmen outside her home in Umlazi township.
There was rioting after her husband Griffiths Nxenge, also a civil rights lawyer, was assassinated in 1981.
Victoria Nxenge took over her husband's law practice. She was a supporter of the United Democratic Front, the main black activist organization, and she participated in many political trials.
Friends in Durban said tonight Nxenge was shot in the head as she stepped from her automobile at 7.30 p.m. They said a woman who was with her saw four hooded gunmen speed away in a car.
There have been several cases recently of black activists being killed by men wearing hoods, prompting allegations that a "hit squad" has been established to eliminate key persons. Police say they have no knowledge of such a squad.
The funeral in Tumahole offered some insights into how the black activist organizations are withstanding the attempts by the white authorities to put them out of action with mass arrests under the emergency regulations imposed July 21.
Although the township, which adjoins the small Orange Free State town of Parys, lies just outside the emergency area, local residents say it is being subjected to much the same kind of crackdown by police acting under the country's standing security laws, which also permit indefinite detention without charges.
Five community leaders have been detained since the emergency was declared July 21, and four have been in detention for three months. Fifteen others have gone into hiding to avoid detention.
Yet the funeral rally was well organized, with an elaborate program of speeches and stewards keeping a tight control over the worked-up crowd while armed police watched from distant rooftops.
Several of the organizers said in interviews that they had come out of hiding to help with the arrangements, and would return "underground" after the funeral.
Speakers appealed to the crowd to give refuge to activists if they knocked on their doors at night. To try to stop this, the police reportedly are enforcing an unofficial curfew, ordering people into their homes at 7 p.m. each evening.
Today's funeral in Tumahole was for three persons killed in a clash with police Saturday at a rally to commemorate the first anniversary of an uprising in the township against an attempt by township administrators to increase house rents.
As at other such funerals, the three-hour ceremony in a community hall quickly turned into a political rally, with the packed crowd unfurling banners, chanting slogans and singing freedom songs, all of which is prohibited under the restrictions that apply to the main emergency areas around Johannesburg and in eastern Cape Province.
An early test of whether black activists and clerics will defy the ban in the emergency areas, and of how the authorities will react if they do, will be provided Saturday, when a funeral is due to be held in Zwide township in eastern Cape Province.
Tutu said in an interview today that he would not be at that funeral but that he might attend another in Duduza township, near Johannesburg, next week.
Tutu was impassioned in his plea to the government to lift the ban on political speeches and processions at the funerals, which have provided the main occasions of black political expression during the 11 months of rebellion against the apartheid system of segregation.
"You say the funerals are becoming political, but where else can we speak?" Tutu asked. "We cannot enter your Parliament. I asked to speak to your state president, but he refused. Now how are we to tell you how we feel?"
Tutu said it is part of African tradition for the community to share in a family's grief.
"How then are you going to keep the people away?" he asked. "Last week, in KwaThema township there were 50,000 people at the funeral. How do you tell them there must be only 1,000?"
"How do you disperse 49,000 people, unless it is that you intend using the police and the Army and having a confrontation in which more of our people will die?"
Imploring the authorities not to create new points of confrontation that would make an already bad situation worse, Tutu said: "We ask you, for the sake of our children and of this land, please withdraw this legislation. Please allow us to bury the people who have been killed because of apartheid as we would like to bury them. Do not rub salt into our wounds."
Switching to a more determined tone, the Nobel laureate warned that if the government did not respond to his plea and the ban remained, "then I shall speak as I always do, and if to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I believe God commands me to preach it means that I must go to jail, then I am ready to go."
Police headquarters in Pretoria said a black police officer and two suspected insurgents were killed today in a shootout between police and a guerrilla band near East London.
Two other insurgents and a police officer were wounded in the clash, which the statement said took place when the guerrillas were intercepted on their way to sabotage a power station.
In an attempt to stamp out student activism in the eastern Cape village of Graaff-Reinet, the local police chief, Brigadier J. Kotze, promulgated emergency regulations today making it a crime for any pupil to be outside school classrooms in the village's black township of Adendorp between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.