ANC meeting opens on militant note

July 03, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

DURBAN, South Africa -- South Africa's foremost anti-apartheid organization opened a major national conference here yesterday to map plans for regaining the political initiative as the country moves down the path of reform.

The five-day meeting is the first full-fledged national conference of the African National Congress to be held in South Africa since the ANC was driven underground 30 years ago. It began on a militant note as Nelson Mandela accused the white-minority government of seeking to discredit negotiations toward a democratic society.

"It has never been on the agenda of the National Party to enter into negotiations with anybody other than those who it had itself placed in supposed positions of power," the ANC's deputy president said of the ruling party.

Mr. Mandela also accused the government of President F. W. de Klerk of using violence to derail the country's 17-month-old negotiations, saying, "There are people within our country, and within the state structures, who remain opposed to the transformation of our country into a non-racial democracy."

The negotiations began when Mr. de Klerk lifted a 30-year-old ban on the ANC and other mainly black political organizations that had fought apartheid. The government has released more than 1,000 political prisoners since February 1990, most notably Mr. Mandela, and has opened preliminary negotiations on reforming the political system.

Last month, South Africa's racially segregated Parliament, acting the advice of Mr. de Klerk, repealed the last major apartheid laws, meeting one of the ANC's chief demands.

The ANC has maintained consistently that the laws must be scrapped, that all political prisoners must be released and that all political exiles be allowed to return before the real negotiations on a new constitution can begin.

Many of the 2,000 delegates at the convention in this humid coastal city were in prison or exile until the government initiated its reform effort, including practically all of the ANC's top officials.

Mr. Mandela described their return to society as a victory for the ANC but said progress on reforms was difficult because "we are dealing with a regime that is steeped in a culture of racism, violence and domination. We are dealing with a group of politicians who do not want to negotiate themselves out of power."

The ANC leader, a shoo-in for the ANC presidency when the conference holds elections Friday, accused the government of pursuing a double agenda of "talking peace while actually conducting war."

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