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Soldiers Deployed As Part Of Effort To Break Soweto Rent Boycott

November 18, 1987

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Soweto township officials backed by truckloads of army troops threatened black residents Wednesday with eviction unless they ended a 17-month-old rent strike.

Witnesses said constables of the Soweto town council went door-to-door before dawn and warned residents they would be kicked out unless they paid up. Soweto officials have carried out similar rounds in recent months, but this was the first time the army had been involved.

Police said the soldiers were deployed ″in a protective capacity,″ and no incidents were reported.

One resident paid the Soweto officials 12 cents, saying that was all the money he had. Another said he was told he must pay his back rent or be evicted Friday.

Estelle Bester, Soweto’s housing director, called the operation a success and said officials collected $5,500 in overdue rent.

″The soldiers were just there to secure the area,″ said Miss Bester. ″This wasn’t designed to intimidate people into paying.″

The government owns virtually all the houses in Soweto and sets rent prices. The Soweto government finances its operations by collecting rent and fees on services such as water and trash collection.

An estimated 80 percent of the households in Soweto, a black township of 2.5 million people outside Johannesburg, are participating in the rent boycott.

The strike was launched in other black townships in September 1985 to protest proposed rent increases. It took hold in Soweto in June 1986.

Nationwide, the rent strike has cost local authorities more than $150 million in revenue.

In the past year, nearly 200 Soweto families have been evicted. In most cases, residents have broken the locks placed on their doors and promptly moved back in. However, officials often remove all the furniture during evictions and hold it until the back rent is paid.

The Soweto Civic Association, an anti-apartheid group that assists residents threatened with evictions, says the boycott will continue until the government-backed city council resigns and rents are lowered. Rents average about $27 a month for a small, three-room house.

By law and custom, apartheid establishes a racially segregated society in which the 25.6 million blacks have no vote in national affairs. The 5 million whites control the economy and maintain separate districts, schools and health services.

In other developments Wednesday, police said two more blacks were killed in the Pietermaritzburg area, where factional fighting has claimed more than 150 lives this year.

The main combatants are the United Democratic Front, the nation’s largest anti-apartheid group, and Inkatha, a political organization headed by Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Peace talks sponsored by local businessmen and clergymen had been scheduled for Thursday but were canceled because of arrests of local leaders of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s largest labor federation and a close ally of the United Democratic Front.

The congress said 38 people were arrested at its Pietermaritzburg office on Tuesday, and 18 remained in custody Wednesday.

″Any real peace initiative is impossible and unworkable if many of our leaders are detained for no apparent reason,″ the congress said in a statement.

Police gave few details about the latest deaths, saying only that two black males, 17 and 25, were killed by mobs in the Pietermaritzburg township of Taylor’s Halt.

Police also said 144 people have been arrested in the past few weeks in connection with the violence in the southeastern city.

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