THOHOYANDOU, South Africa -- In a development marking the dramatic shift in South Africa's racial politics, former guerrilla soldiers of the African National Congress announced plans yesterday to prepare for their role "in the army of the future South Africa."
While right-wing whites pursued a campaign against the government, the former ANC soldiers, who once were considered terrorists, ended their first conference ever on South African soil.
Their meeting in this quiet black homeland in northern South Africa symbolized the transformation that has occurred in the past 18 months in South Africa, where yesterday's terrorists are planning to become the defenders of society while yesterday's policemen are turning to terrorist acts.
A former policeman, Eugene TerreBlanche, head of the pro-apartheid Afrikaner Resistance Movement, led an attack on soldiers in the town of Ventersdorp Friday in an effort to disrupt a speech by President F. W. de Klerk.
Mr. TerreBlanche told reporters in Pretoria yesterday that he was provoked by the de Klerk reforms, including the decision last year to legalize the ANC and allow its guerrilla fighters to return.
The ANC soldiers resolved to support political negotiations instead of armed combat as a means of changing South Africa. And they voted to strengthen their military structures "in preparation for a role in the army of a future democratic, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa."
Men who spent years living in guerrilla camps outside the country said they had shifted their focus to the new challenge of finding jobs and building homes after years in exile.
"The process of bringing the army back is a very difficult one. The ANC is not a government but a liberation movement," said Commander Joe Modise of the ANC army, known as The Spear of the Nation.
"Many cadres have been away for years," he said, "and some are coming back to find they have no homes."
Mr. Modise said the ANC no longer needed a guerrilla army now that the organization is legal and negotiations are under way with the de Klerk government. He said his troops would be transformed to a regular army over the next few years as part of a plan to prepare them for service in a new South African army.
Che Ogara, 35, who returned to South Africa last May after 16 years as an ANC soldier, said the transition had been tough. He is hopeful about the future and convinced the ANC army played an important role in creating a new future for South Africa. But at the moment he is looking for a job.
"We don't have the qualifications for other jobs. Basically we're military men," he said, adding that he hoped to use his military skills one day in the service of a new South Africa.
"My heart and everything is in the army. And I hope to play a part in a new army in a new and democratic South Africa," he said.