Black mayor in S. Africa finally heeds calls to quit

October 23, 1990|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

DAVEYTON, South Africa -- After 10 years of resisting calls for his resignation and rejecting cries that his government was "illegitimate," Tom Boya has stepped down as mayor of this busy black township.

With apartheid crumbling and negotiations under way to reshape local governments that have been scorned by black community activists, Mr. Boya said it finally was time to go. Four of his 15 Town Council members went with him.

"I never really wanted to work on the other side of the people. It had always bothered me," he said. It bothered him increasingly, he added, as he watched his community support dwindle and as he argued more and more with the national government in Pretoria for financial help.

Mr. Boya said he remained in local government over the years because he thought he could improve his community by working from the inside instead of criticizing from the outside. He said he believes his accomplishments were worthwhile. He points to paved roads, new housing, adequate services and new schools built in this town of 200,000 about 25 miles east of Johannesburg.

But anti-apartheid activists labeled him and other black township officials stooges of the white regime and said they helped to maintain the structures of apartheid while enriching themselves. Black officials became targets of violence, and at the height of anti-government unrest in the mid-1980s many were attacked and murdered by mobs of township vigilantes.

Five Molotov cocktails were tossed into Mr. Boya's home one night in 1985. He and his family escaped unharmed.

The former mayor got a thumbs-up from several residents as he drove through town in his sporty black Mercedes this week, talking on his car telephone.

He said he has gotten a steady stream of calls from well-wishers locally and nationally who welcomed his decision.

"Black local authorities have been long discredited by our people," said Chris Dlamini, a prominent union official and a leader of a newly formed coalition of community groups, the Civic Association of the Southern Transvaal. "They have never enjoyed the support of a majority of the people. People have been demanding that they resign, and they have been refusing."

Mr. Boya and his colleagues are the latest of a long string of township officials who have resigned under pressure from increasingly powerful community activists and in the midst of community boycotts staged to protest high rent charges by government authorities, poor services or the very existence of the black local governments alongside separate white governments in neighboring white cities.

The entire Town Council of Mhluzi, another black township crippled by rent and service boycotts, resigned only days before the announcement by Mr. Boya, a prominent figure who is president of the United Municipalities of South Africa, which represents officials of 60 townships.

Last month, the council resigned in Tumahole, a township in the conservative Orange Free State, after white authorities in the nearby town of Parys shut off their water and electricity in response to a boycott.

Also last month, in a bloody reminder that township officials remain targets of violence, a Town Council member in Dobsonville, a section of the huge Soweto township, was gunned down with his wife.

In Daveyton, there have been no recent incidents of violence, but local residents refused to pay service charges to the white Town Council in neighboring Benoni. After weeks of negotiations between officials of Benoni, Daveyton, the national government and the power company that supplies the area, Mr. Boya said he thought a deal had been struck for residents to pay lower rates. But power to the township was shut off Oct. 15 after Benoni authorities said Daveyton residents failed to live up to their side of the agreement.

Mr. Boya said that was the last straw for him. Feeling hammered by local residents and betrayed by the national government, which he said was not supporting him, he decided finally to heed the calls for his resignation.

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