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Soweto City Council Drops Campaign To Crush Rent Boycott

December 9, 1988 GMT

SOWETO, South Africa (AP) _ The city council of the black township of Soweto has agreed to halt evictions and write off arrears stemming from a massive, 3-year-old rent boycott, prominent anti-apatheid activists said today. The activists, who met with the council for several hours, included Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, miners’ union leader Cyril Ramaphosa and others who in the past have refused to negotiate with the black councilors of the township near Johannesburg.

The rent boycott, launched to press a broad range of grievances against the government, has evolved into one of the most effective forms of protest still available to blacks under a 30-month-old state of emergency.

Authorities have used numerous tactics in futile attempts to break the boycott, including late-night eviction raids such as one in August 1986 which led to the deaths of nearly 30 blacks in a confrontation with police.

The new council took office following nationwide municipal elections Oct. 26 which were the target of an illegal but successful boycott by blacks. About 11.5 percent of eligible voters in Soweto cast ballots.

South Africa’s black majority is excluded from Parliament, and black local councils have been denounced by activists as subordinate extensions of the white-dominated political system.

The new council, seeking to differentiate itself from its predecessor, proceeded to rehire municipal workers fired during a strike and said it wanted to consult with community leaders to resolve problems facing the township of 2.5 million people.

Today’s meeting came two days after South Africa’s highest court ruled that previous Soweto councils had no legal authority to collect rent from occupants of the thousands of homes built in the 1940s and 1950s by the city council of Johannesburg. At that time, there was no separate black administration in Soweto.

The Rev. Frank Chikane, secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches and leader of the activists’ delegation, said the councilors agreed that because of the court ruling, no Sowetan was required to pay any of the millions of dollars of rent withheld during the boycott.

Chikane said further negotiations would take place to determine whether some residents should now be awarded ownership of their houses and what type of rent or service charges should be paid in the future. In the interim, he said, residents should not pay any rent.

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The rent boycott was launched in townships south of Johannesburg in 1985 and spread to dozens of communities nationwide. Overdue rent in Soweto alone is believed to exceed $100 million.

Chikane and Tutu indicated the new council was viewed more positively by activists than its predecessors.

″They told us our grievances were their grievances,″ said Tutu.

The activists said in a statement that negotiations with the council would continue only if it were able to guarantee community leaders were not harassed or detained as they consulted with residents.

One of the consequences of the five-month municipal workers’ strike was an accumulation of trash on roadsides throughout Soweto.

The council will launch a clean-up campaign Saturday, and it drew praise from the normally critical local newspaper, The Sowetan, for a proposal to pay children to join the effort.