Parents Pray for Detained Children’s Release
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Hundreds of parents prayed together today for the release of their detained children before Christmas.
Mothers and fathers filled a hall in Khotso House, a downtown building housing anti-apartheid groups, to sing carols and hymns and to appeal for freedom for their sons and daughters.
″Lord, Liberator, Jesus ... while we celebrate Your birthday, we remember that now is a time to protest at every injustice to childhood, that now is a time to honor all the holy innocents massacred by Herod’s hatred and fear, all those snatched away from parents and home, all those detained in prison cells.
″Bring peace to our troubled country, bring freedom to every child,″ they prayed.
Detentions of children ″are a most shameful blot on the conscience of this country,″ said Ethel Walt, Transvaal Province Chairman of the Black Sash, an anti-apartheid group made up mainly of white women.
Some parents wept quietly as voices filled the room with ″Away in a Manger,″ then ″Nkosi Sikelele i’Afrika″ (God Bless Africa), the unofficial anthem of the anti-apartheid movement.
Participants in the prayer meeting piled soft drinks, potato chips, candy and cookies on tables in the hall. Black Sash planned to try to deliver the treats to children at two prisons on Thursday.
The government disclosed Monday that 256 children aged 15 and younger are being held under the state of emergency imposed in June.
Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok said law-abiding people had the right to be protected from violence and intimidation whatever the age of those responsible.
″What kind of society is it that needs to be protected from its own children?″ Mrs. Walt asked the families, nearly all of them black, gathered at Khotso House.
Black Sash had estimated the number of detained children at 1,300 to 1,800, some as young as 11, but that estimate included 16-and 17-year-olds. Mrs. Walt said Black Sash disputed the government’s figures, and questioned its exclusion of those aged 16 and 17, who are defined by law as children.
She acknowledged that not all children were innocent of wrongdoing, but said they should be charged and tried in a court, not held without charge like other detainees.
Monitoring groups estimate 20,000 people have been detained since June, and that about half that number are now in custody. The government has refused to provide figures since early September, when it said 9,300 people had been held for at least 30 days.
One father, Walter Maile, said his 17-year-old son, Abram, was detained in June.
″They don’t tell us,″ Maile said when asked why his son was in custody. He said his son was a high school student and not a ″comrade,″ as young militants call themselves.
″There will be no Christmas party at home this year because we are not together,″ he said.
Three 16-year-old girls told reporters they were held five to a cell at Soweto’s Diepkloof Prison until their recent release. Gloria Shuenyane, from Kagiso, west of Johannesburg, said she was held for 90 days, and hospitalized at the end of her detention with stomach problems which she blamed on bad and insufficient food.
″They didn’t say why, they just said we were comrades when they took us,″ she said. She was questioned daily, she said, about who was organizing bus and consumer boycotts in Kagiso.
Matthew Molefe, also from Kagiso, said his 13-year-old daughter, Cleopatra, was taken from the family home at 4 a.m. on Sept. 24. Police said they wanted to question her and would bring her home later, he said. Instead, she was detained.