JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South African authorities lifted a nighttime curfew in the huge black township of Soweto yesterday, saying violence has dropped dramatically since it was imposed 10 days ago.
Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok said a curfew would remain in effect in the troubled townships of Thokoza, Katlehong and Vosloorus between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., but he said an analysis of crime in Soweto indicated that a curfew was no longer needed there.
He said that overall crime in Soweto, which has an estimated population of almost 3 million people, had declined by more than 65 percent since the curfew was imposed and that the murder rate alone had dropped 62 percent.
The curfew was part of Operation Iron Fist, a series of tough measures designed to control the outbreak of violence that caused almost 800 deaths since mid-August in black townships around the Johannesburg area.
But the curfew and other measures were harshly criticized by the African National Congress. ANC leader Nelson Mandela said the Iron Fist policy, which included an increased police presence and machine guns mounted on police vehicles, gave security forces a license to attack black people in the townships.
"The main purpose of the curfew . . . was to prevent political activity in the townships and not to curb violence," the ANC said in a statement yesterday.
It renewed its contention that there was never any reason for the curfew because the township trouble was caused by outside forces working to foment chaos and to destabilize the political climate, in which the ANC and top government leaders have been holding preliminary discussions aimed at ending apartheid.
"The crux of the problem is that township communities were under attack from forces connected to the South African police, the South African Defense Force and the National Intelligence Service," the ANC said.
Despite the government's claims about a drop in crime, the ANC said, "only a handful of these murderers have been apprehended."
The township violence erupted Aug. 12 between supporters of the ANC and followers of Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the ANC's main political rival, the Zulu-based Inkatha movement. The ANC charged that Zulu vigilantes were working with government security forces to undermine the ANC and spread fear and chaos among its followers.
Both Mr. Buthelezi and law enforcement authorities have denied the charges.
A police spokesman called on the ANC yesterday to "put your evidence where your mouth is."
Mr. Buthelezi had appealed to Mr. Mandela to meet with him to discuss the township violence, but the Zulu leader refused to attend a meeting of homeland leaders to which he was invited at Mr. Mandela's Soweto home yesterday.
Mr. Buthelezi, who is chief executive of the KwaZulu ethnic homeland, said that since the violence involved his supporters and supporters of Mr. Mandela, the two men needed to hold a one-on-one meeting.
Mr. Mandela said after the meeting that he regretted the Zulu leader's absence. He said Mr. Buthelezi had missed an opportunity to exchange ideas with other homeland leaders.