SOWETO, South Africa -- The African National Congress, which has vigorously promoted international sanctions against South Africa, should reassess its stand in light of changes taking place in the country, the organization's president said yesterday..
Speaking at the ANC's first national conference inside South Africa in 30 years, Oliver Tambo gave the first clear signal that the anti-apartheid group might be preparing to back off its insistence that sanctions must be maintained to keep pressure on the government to reform.
Mr. Tambo, who returned from exile Thursday, said international sanctions had been "a crucial factor in our struggle. We take this opportunity to thank the international community for standing solidly behind us."
But he added that the ANC, the driving force behind sanctions for years, should "carefully re-evaluate the advisability of insisting on the retention of sanctions, given the new developments in the country and abroad."
The ANC president told the 1,600 convention delegates that the group should not allow the strategic initiative to shift to the government, whose leaders argue that economic sanctions should be removed because South Africa is on an irreversible course toward a fair and democratic society.
Until yesterday, the ANC's most visible leader, Nelson Mandela, had maintained that sanctions must be maintained until apartheid was dismantled or at least until the organization was certain the political reform process was irreversible.
But there have been hints that the anti-apartheid group wadiscussing a possible change in its position next year. Mr. Mandela had recently written to European leaders asking them to not to lift sanctions before next year, when the South African Parliament is expected to remove most of the remaining pillars of apartheid.
Mr. Tambo's remark comes in the midst of a sanctions debatamong European leaders. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl pressed his European counterparts this week to send a message of support to the government of President Frederik W. de Klerk, which has undertaken a series of political reforms since last February and is engaging in preliminary talks with the ANC.
But Mr. Tambo and Mr. Mandela both maintained that thgovernment was not demonstrating a clear commitment to negotiations on a new constitutional arrangement that would give blacks equal rights with whites.
"It is becoming increasingly clear that, in spite of our initiativethe government is dragging its feet in carrying out its undertakings to clear away the obstacles in the path to real negotiations," Mr. Mandela told the delegates, many of whom had recently returned to South Africa after years in exile.
He accused the government of having a "double agenda" in itapproach toward reform.
"While de Klerk and his colleagues have had to accept and galong with the ANC's initiative for a peaceful solution, there is a simultaneous attempt taking place whose purpose is to destabilize, undermine and, if possible, crush the ANC and its allies," he said.
Mr. Mandela accused "elements within the apartheid power bloc" of engaging in acts of terror against blacks and blamed them for the recent spate of bloody violence in black townships.
Delegates at the convention are expected to sort out the organization's positions on crucial issues such as negotiations with the government, international sanctions and violence.
Mr. Mandela paid tribute to Mr. Tambo, his former law partner and longtime colleague, who left South Africa in 1960 to establish external offices for the organization and who became president in 1967.
Delegates cheered Mr. Tambo, who was draped in a wreath made of the ANC colors of black, green and yellow.
The ANC president, who suffered a massive stroke 16 months ago, spoke slowly and deliberately in a strong voice. He told the delegates that "victory is in sight" for their struggle against apartheid.