The South African Cabinet met today amid continued widespread racial violence to discuss what it describes as a major security crisis. Rumors swept through the Cape Town legislature that a state of emergency would be declared within 48 hours, followed by large-scale detention of black activists.
Although there was no statement after the meeting, speculation mounted about a state of emergency as it became clear that opposition filibustering would prevent two tough new security bills from becoming law before the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising Monday.
Security police in predawn roundups Thursday arrested eight members of a black consciousness movement and a senior labor union official, The Associated Press quoted the union and a South African news service as reporting.
[Saths Cooper, president of the Azanian People's Organization, was detained along with seven colleagues picked up from their homes, the South African Press Association said. Adrienne Bird, an education organizer of the Metal and Allied Workers' Union, was picked up at her home in the Johannesburg white suburb of Brixton soon after midnight, union spokesman Bernie Fanaroff said.]
Aside from the continued clashes among blacks, the Cabinet meeting took place against a backdrop of mounting threats of international sanctions and another sharp drop in the value of the rand currency.
The major violence was again in the Crossroads squatter complex outside Cape Town, where for the third consecutive day conservative black vigilantes, apparently supported by police, attacked radical opponents and established their control over a settlement that was once a symbol of resistance to the white minority administration.
Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, went to the camp on a peace mission, crossing a police cordon to enter the battle zone with nine other black clergymen.
They walked among the burning shanties, and Tutu described the scene afterwards as "nightmarish."
Tutu said he had met with leaders of both sides involved in the fighting and expressed guarded optimism that they might be willing to negotiate through him.
The diminutive black bishop said he had formed the impression there was no deep enmity between the two sides and that all those he had spoken to "had no doubts in their minds" that the police had been involved in the fighting.
Desmon Curran, a Catholic priest who is head of an interdenominational group of clergymen called the Ministers Fraternal, said that before the fighting began he saw vigilantes getting into a police armored vehicle and taking orders.
"When the vigilantes first moved in there were two police vans and a Casspir [armored vehicle] escorting them every inch of the way," Curran said.
David Cooke, an Anglican minister, said he had seen a policeman shoot at residents to stop them defending their shacks while vigilantes set fire to them.
The accusation, which police and officials deny, is that the authorities struck a deal with the leader of the main sector of the squatter complex, called Old Crossroads, to drive out squatters from satellite camps regarded as radical strongholds in return for having Old Crossroads upgraded.
Eight persons were killed in today's fighting, bringing the death toll since Monday to 21 and total casualties since the vigilante attacks began last month to 69. An estimated 60,000 people are homeless.
The government, hinting it has information about more sinister plans which it has not disclosed, is grimly determined to prevent any black demonstrations commemorating the Soweto anniversary.
This position has aroused strong criticism from political opponents, who warn that it could provoke more trouble than it prevents.
Some opponents are suggesting that the government is using the anniversary to put on a demonstration of forcefulness to stem a loss of white voter support to far-right political movements which appear to be growing rapidly after nearly two years of continuous racial unrest.
June 16 is the most emotional date in the black nationalist calendar and there is tension each year as commemoration rallies are held.
This year's tenth anniversary is arousing particularly strong emotions, and black activist organizations have organized rallies and called for a three-day work stoppage beginning Monday.
The minister of law and order, Louis le Grange, introduced the two tough new security bills in the legislature 10 days ago, saying he needed them to maintain order during the anniversary.
But the white opposition Progressive Federal Party and Colored (mixed race) and Asian representatives began the filibuster expected to prevent the bills from becoming law by Monday.
David Dalling, a Progressive Federalist legislator, said that he had been "tipped off" by government members that an emergency declaration was imminent and that large-scale detentions of activists would follow.
The rand has been sliding, and it fell today below 37 cents. This followed news that the House Foreign Relations Committee has approved new legislation on U.S. sanctions.