Mandela moves to soothe whites over Marxism S. Africa debates role of 'Reds' in ANC

August 06, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- In a world where Communists have lost their ability to strike fear in the hearts of most opponents, South Africa stands out for a lively debate taking place over who is and who is not "a Red."

Nelson Mandela's African National Congress is coming under intense criticism because of its longtime alliance with the South African Communist Party and because of the large number of Communists on the policy-making body of the anti-apartheid organization.

The furor has reached such fever pitch that Mr. Mandela publicly criticized Marxism last month in his first clear attempt to distance his organization from Communist doctrines and to address white fears that a future ANC-led government would lead South Africa to economic ruin.

"The SACP has declared that their cooperation with us is only up to the point of the overthrow of the apartheid state," Mr. Mandela said in an interview published here. "After that they take their own line, which we will not follow. We won't follow socialism. We've got our own program."

The disavowal of Communist doctrine seemed anachronistic in the wake of Eastern Europe's collapse, the Soviet Union's reforms and the abandonment of Marxist policies by most African countries that once embraced them.

But in South Africa, fear of communism is real despite its decline in the rest of the world, because whites fear that an ANC government would one day nationalize their assets in a program of wealth distribution aimed at correcting the injustices of apartheid.

"There is no doubt in my mind that most of the concern is quite genuine because people believe in free enterprise, and Marxist economic models have not been able to ensure free enterprise," Mr. Mandela told the Star, one of South Africa's largest newspapers.

He said that the ANC's alliance with Communists did not arise from a common ideology but from a common commitment to end apartheid. "What unites us today is the struggle against racial oppression, and we are not prepared to investigate the political ideology of any particular member of the ANC as long as he or she supports the basic aim of destroying racial oppression," he said.

Mr. Mandela also conceded that the ANC "perhaps placed too much emphasis on nationalization. It should have been sufficient for us to say, 'We think in the light of our own situation that some measure of state involvement in the building of the economy is necessary.' "

The question of nationalizing private property, which mostly means white property, has been especially sensitive among nervous white South Africans, who benefited from apartheid laws such as the recently repealed statute that reserved 87 percent of the country's land for whites.

The ANC's Communist link has been criticized by government and business leaders, such as Constitutional Minister Gerrit van N. Viljoen, who said ANC critics "cannot be blamed if they continue to keep on regarding the ANC and SACP as one."

Following the ANC's annual convention earlier last month, headlines focused on the number of Communists on the ANC Executive Committee. "Thirty-seven Reds on ANC Top Body," screamed a headline in the Citizen, a conservative newspaper.

The Citizen's count is widely regarded as inflated, but an accurate count is not available because many Communists continue to conceal their membership in the party. But top leaders of the Communist Party, such as General Secretary Joe Slovo, already are well-known, and most are members of the 90-member ANC Executive Committee.

Both the ANC and the SACP were banned for decades by the South African government, and the ANC was portrayed as a Communist-inspired terrorist organization. Both were legalized last year.

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