Within hours of the detentions of United Democratic Front officials Murphy Morobe and Mohammed Valli Moosa this week, leading figures of South Africa’s major opposition groupings had packed their bags and vanished underground. Identifying the police move against Morobe and Valli as the start of a renewed government crackdown on the opposition, virtually the entire leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) had, by yesterday morning, disappeared – joining top UDF officials who remained underground, despite the apparent easing of government pressure since the June 11 second national State of Emergency.
Acting UDF publicity secretary Morobe and acting general secretary Valli were detained in a police raid on a home in Port Elizabeth’s Malabar township – robbing the UDF of its most visible public figure and the extra-parliamentary opposition of its best known face. Although he has eluded arrest by living underground since the national Emergency was imposed last June, Morobe has moved relatively freely between black townships and newspaper offices to keep news of the UDF on front pages. Morobe has also emerged occasionally to deliver major policy speeches. His last public appearance was to deliver the main address on Wednesday last week during the official opening of Cosatu’s second biannual congress at the University of the Witwatersrand.
He and Valli were crucial in organising the recent secret meeting of the UDF national executive committee. In addition, since government action under the Emergency forced the closure of UDF offices, he and Valli, among the UDFs few full-five officials, have functioned as a mobile head office for the organisation, often the major interface between widely-divergent UDF affiliates and regions.
Morobe avoided detention during much of the 1985/6 Emergency as well. He was detained near the end of the Emergency in central Johannesburg and held for six weeks. Valli avoided detention throughout the 1985/6 Emergency but was held on January 12 this year. He was freed on April 7, just before a Supreme Court action demanding his release was due to come before the court. Although the UDF, a major affiliate, the South African Youth Congress, and Cosatu have said the detentions will not restrict opposition activity, the capture of Morobe and Valli could be the most serious police move against the UDF since the 1984-85 arrests of Patrick “Terror” Lekota and Popo Molefe, whose publicity and general secretariat roles Morobe and Valli took over. This week’s detention take to at least eight the number of UDF national leaders in custody.
Lekota, Molefe and Moss Chikane are among the 19 accused – and the only three denied bail – in what was known as the Delmas treason trial. The trial has now been moved to Pretoria and is due to reopen next month. Other UDF national executive members known to be in custody include Western Cape leaders Christmas Tinto and Trevor Manuel, Border’s Arnold Stofile, who is serving an 11 year sentence in Ciskei for “terrorism”, the Northern Cape’s Jomo Khasu and Port Elizabeth’s Henry Fazzie.
Of the UDF’s three presidents, Albertina Sisulu and Archie Gumede are free, but Oscar Mpetha is serving a five-year sentence in Cape Town. Morobe and Valli are among many major opposition figures detained in Port Elizabeth. Lekota was detained in Port Elizabeth in September 1984 after addressing an anti-election rally, but was released after a month. He was arrested again in February 1985 and charged with treason.
Joyce Mabudafazi, a UDF Northern Transvaal official, was detained in the township in October last year. He is still in detention. Molefe also had a slight brush with the law in Port Elizabeth. A car in which he was a passenger was stopped in Kwazakhele and searched Security police confiscated his briefcase. He was detained at Jan Smuts airport on his way to Port Elizabeth in early 1985.
The latest detentions have been condemned by a number of extra-parliamentary opposition groups. In a statement, Cosatu said the continued detention of Morobe and Valli “would aggravate the crisis that the country now faces”. General secretary Jay Naidoo said “We have always said that detention of leadership that has the will and the backing of the majority of the oppressed people will not contribute towards finding a solution.”
The militant South African Youth Congress has also registered its condemnation of the action. A spokesman for Sayco said the detentions were “part of an ongoing attempt by the Botha-Malan junta to crash opponents of apartheid and to smash the UDF in particular and the broad democratic movement in general”. Police have confirmed that the two men are being held under Emergency regulations.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail newspaper