South Africa to revise security law

May 03, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa announced plans yesterday to drastically revise security laws that have been used for decades to detain government opponents without trial.

President F. W. de Klerk said his government would strip the controversial 1982 Internal Security Act of sections that provide for "preventive detention" and the maintenance of an enemies list by the state.

He said his goal was to remove the provisions "which impinge on the democratic process."

"The suppression of the right of any party to state its case democratically in an orderly manner is not acceptable to the government," he said in a lengthy address to Parliament in Cape Town. "That phase is irrevocably a thing of the past."

Human rights activists said more than 50,000 people, including children, have been detained without trial since the mid-1980s, when the government responded to unrest in black townships with massive arrests, censorship and banning of political organizations.

If political detentions were ended under the Internal Security Act, the activists said, the government still would be able to detain opponents under the Public Safety Act. They said amending the Internal Security Act did not ensure the end of the practice.

"The only amendment as far as I'm concerned is a total removal," said Max Coleman, director of the independent South African Human Right Commission. "It's like apartheid itself. You can't reform it. You can only abolish it."

Mr. de Klerk's announcement was the latest in a series of reforms he has proposed during the current session of Parliament. He also has vowed to repeal the last major apartheid laws -- the Population Registration Act, which categorizes people by race; the Group Areas Act, which mandates racially segregated neighborhoods; and the Land Acts, which reserve almost 90 percent of the country's land for its white minority.

Anti-apartheid organizations long have demanded an end to those laws and have called on the government to eliminate security legislation that was used by the state to suppress and harass political opponents.

He said "just" security legislation would remain on the books but would be stripped of provisions that had "an inhibiting effect on participation in normal political activities."

Township violence flared again yesterday, resulting in more than three dozen deaths in townships around Johannesburg over a 24-hour period. Police said 25 people died in Soweto township alone between Wednesday evening and last night during intense hand-to-hand clashes between ANC backers and members of the Zulu-based movement known as Inkatha.

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