Thousands of blacks march in Pretoria, urge de Klerk to step aside

August 06, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

PRETORIA, South Africa -- An army of black protesters marched to the seat of white power yesterday and called on President F. W. de Klerk to step aside and make way for a democratic government led by Nelson Mandela.

In a day full of symbolism, 50,000 to 100,000 marchers swept through the capital city and massed in front of government headquarters, where they sang the black anthem "God Bless Africa" and hoisted the green, gold and black flag of Mr. Mandela's African National Congress.

A young man climbed the bronze statue of a famous white general, Louis Botha, and waved another ANC flag as the crowd chanted "De Klerk must go."

It was the most dramatic event in a week of protests against the white-minority government. The protest was a clear statement of what black political activists want from the current reform and negotiations process: a transfer of power from the whites inside the government Union Buildings to the blacks who stood on the lawn outside.

"We are just at the door of the Union Buildings now," ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa told the crowd. "Next time, F. W. de Klerk, we are going to be inside your office." The crowd erupted into cheers.

"We look forward to the day Nelson Mandela will be in the office that de Klerk occupies illegitimately," he said.

Eric Lebese, a 34-year-old electrician who came out to march, said, "We want Mr. de Klerk to understand what the majority of people want: We want the end of minority government."

The protesters faced a phalanx of police and riot troops, armed with handguns and automatic rifles, stationed high atop the steps of the giant neo-classical Union Buildings.

Police reported no incidents during the protest, which was peaceful and orderly with hundreds of ANC parade marshals in khaki uniforms keeping strict control.

A team of observers from the United Nations also attended the march as part of their weeklong mission to monitor the South African protest campaign.

After the march, Mr. de Klerk emerged to say he looked forward to seeing Mr. Mandela in his office again. "He needn't speak to me from the lower part of the Union Buildings. There's an open door here."

Mr. Mandela, addressing protesters on the lawn, said this week's campaign, including a nationwide strike Monday and Tuesday, "struck a blow for peace and democracy" in South Africa, where 30 million blacks still do not have the vote.

"We are here to take South Africa along the road to peace and democracy," said the country's most prominent black leader. "Our task is to build a new South Africa. We are seeking no victors and no losers. We want the people of South Africa as a whole to be the victors."

Mr. Mandela said the ANC was committed to negotiations with the government. But he said that after the breakdown of talks in June, it was necessary for the government to respond by ending violence in the country, making a commitment to an interim government to draft a constitution and making a commitment to free elections.

Mr. de Klerk is expected to announce new proposals aimed at getting negotiations back on track after the week of protest is over. He told reporters there was an urgent need to return to discussions on the country's future, saying, "I'm prepared to sit down tomorrow."

The protest was watched by hundreds of whites who stood on balconies and rooftops along Pretoria's Kerk Street, a major artery through the city.

Johnny da Silva, a Portuguese shopkeeper along the march route, said blacks had every right to protest for their rights. "They've suffered enough. They're also human beings like us."

However, right-wing leader Jaap Marais issued a statement saying whites were "sick and tired" of black protests, which he called "irresponsible and disruptive." He said calls by black leaders for a takeover of the government amounted to sedition.

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