Government Takes Journalists on Tour of Two Townships
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) _ Mayors of two black townships torn by anti-apartheid violence told 12 journalists on a government-conducted tour Monday that peace had returned to their communities.
Journalists accompanied by officials of the Bureau for Information were driven through Mamelodi and Atteridgeville, near Pretoria, in a police riot bus equipped with gunrests and wire screens over the windows. Soldiers in an armored car accompanied the bus part of the way.
The visitors saw no unrest and only a few signs of the presence of security forces.
Bureau spokeswoman Ronelle Henning said the visit was the first in a possible series of government-sponsored trips for journalists to black townships around the country. She said it was important for reporters covering a national story ″to see local situations as well.″
The bureau is the source of official information about unrest under the nationwide state of emergency imposed June 12. It has been active in presenting the white-led government’s views on two years of racial violence and in raising objections to news stories of which officials do not approve.
Journalists on the Monday tour, all invited by the bureau, included four from The Associated Press and NBC. The other eight represented South African media.
Under emergency regulations, reporters may enter townships on their own if there is no unrest. The Bureau of Information permitted stops Monday at town council offices and at schools and a park in Mamelodi.
A tour was conducted in Soweto, the huge black township near Johannesburg, soon after the emergency was declared but reporters were not allowed to stop and talk with residents.
Press restrictions prohibit journalists from describing actions by security forces or publishing the names of detainees without government permission, and forbid quotation of ″subversive statements.″ Most public gatherings are banned and police are empowered to detain people without charge.
Unrest began to affect Atteridgeville and Mamelodi last year. Thirteen blacks were killed in clashes with riot patrols in Mamelodi on Nov. 21. It was one of the bloodiest days in the two years of violence.
″Six months ago, you couldn’t have driven through Mamelodi, even in a police bus,″ Ms. Henning said.
She rejected a suggestion that escorted tours of townships were intended to show journalists only situations supporting government assertions that unrest has declined sharply under the emergency. Ms. Henning said the bureau was prepared to take reporters into communities where conditions are less positive than in the two townships seen Monday.
Army Capt. Henri Boshoff, commander of police and military forces in Mamelodi, reported a monthly average of more than 60 riot incidents in the township from November to March. He said increased activity by security forces brought the average down to 30 and that the current figure was below 10 a month.
″Most of the incidents involve pamphlets and graffiti now. There is no more petrol-bombing, stone-throwing and hand grenades,″ Boshoff said. He reported four people killed in the township since March.
″Our priority now is to stabilize the situation. We have normalized it,″ he said.
Bennett Ndlazi, a public relations consultant and mayor of the community of about 500,000, said: ″The situation is normal. Security forces are keeping a very low profile. The rent boycott is not very extensive - 69 percent are paying rent and others are being catered for because they are unemployed. All schools are being attended.
″We have a lot of projects - housing, phone booths, post offices, parks. We plan to spend 250 million rand ($112.5 million) on housing. The people are very happy.″
Asked why security forces were necessary in the township, he replied: ″We have a lot of thuggery going on, taking cars and so on.″
Mayor Matthews Mahlangu of Atteridgeville, a community of 100,000, said $31.5 million would be spent in the next two years to provide 1,200 new housing units. ″There is no unrest in Atteridgeville,″ he said.