by Cristina Odone AN HISTORIC trial will take place within the month when a South African priest will fight against his continued detention, as an alleged threat to the state, under the emergency regulations.
Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa this week won the right in the Pretoria Supreme Court to refer his detention to trial. This sets an important precedent for the 12,000 detainees held in prisons since the state of emergency was declared on June 12.
Fr Mkhatshwa, the Secretary General of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, disclosed last week (Catholic Herald August 28) that he had been tortured for more than 30 hours under interrogation by police.
His account gave rise to a flood of protests from Church leaders and organisations around the world, which "contributed to this historic decision", a spokesman for the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) told the Catholic Herald.
The application for Fr Mkhatshwa's release to be referred to trial, granted on Tuesday by Mr Justice Esselen, followed a report bearing a series of charges against the priest by the Minister of Law and Order, Louis Le Grange.
In his report, Mr Le Grange claimed that Fr Mkhatshwa's continued detention was lawful because he represents "a serious threat to public order".
Mr Le Grange charged the priest with supporting such black "activist" groups as the outlawed African National Congress (ANC) in their campaign to overthrow South Africa's "existing order".
In reply to Mr Le Grange's charges, Fr Mkhatshwa submitted an affidavit to the Pretoria Court on Tuesday.
Condemning Mr Le Grange's testimonial as "sheer nonsense", Fr Mkhatshwa said that although he supported "certain" aims of the ANC, such as the dismantling of apartheid and the establishment of a "non-racial democratic society", he did not support their methods. " I abhor violence" he said.
In his affidavit, the black priest also condemned the Minister's "smear campaign" against the Catholic Church in South Africa. see profile, page two