JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- In an attempt to put pressure on the South African government without taking the drastic step of cutting off talks, the African National Congress announced yesterday that it would not negotiate on a new constitution until the government curbs township violence.
But the anti-apartheid organization said it would continue discussions on violence, political prisoners and other urgent issues with the white-minority government of President F. W. de Klerk.
The action amounts to a refusal to enter new talks with the government but to continue discussions already under way aimed at clearing the path for constitutional negotiations.
It appeared to be more symbolic than substantive, since no constitutional talks were anticipated prior to a major ANC policy-making conference scheduled in July.
The ANC had demanded that the government act decisively to stop violence by banning the carrying of weapons in public and dismissing the Cabinet ministers in charge of the police and the army. But the government had not yet met the demands, despite the passage of two ANC-imposed deadlines.
"Until such time as progress is made in regard to these demands, the ANC will not involve itself in constitutional discussions with the government," ANC Secretary General Alfred Nzo said in a statement drafted after a meeting of the ANC's executive committee.
He said the ANC also refused to take part in any all-party congress "to discuss the mechanisms for drawing up a new democratic constitution."
Since it was legalized last year after 30 years as a banned organization, the ANC has been the major player in talks with the government to dismantle apartheid and draw up a democratic constitution for South Africa.
The ANC has said it is committed to the negotiating process aimed at changing the structure of government, but it says the government must first take certain steps to ensure that the climate is right for negotiations.
Among those steps are the release of all political prisoners and amnesty for political exiles who left the country to avoid persecution or to fight the government.
Mr. de Klerk has agreed to release the prisoners and has in fact released hundreds already, but his government did not meet an April 30 deadline for completion of the job. He and ANC leaders have traded angry charges about which side is at fault for the delay.
"There is a whole catalog of agreements [with the government], but the problem has been implementation," Mr. Nzo said at a news conference. He charged that the government had not made a "reasonable response."
The ANC officials also said the organization would not attend a multiparty conference on violence that was called "unilaterally" by Mr. de Klerk "to score political points."
They said a neutral group such as church leaders should sponsor such a conference instead of one of the "belligerents."
The ANC has accused the government of instigating violence in the townships or failing to stop it in order to cause chaos among blacks and weaken the anti-apartheid movement.