De Klerk, Mandela agree to meet in effort to defuse violence

September 11, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The white government and the African National Congress (ANC) scrambled yesterday to find a way out of the worst political crisis in South Africa since the country's reform process began 31 months ago.

Foreign Minister Roelof F. "Pik" Botha asked the United Nations to send another special envoy to help stop the violence, and the ANC agreed in principle to a meeting between Nelson Mandela, its leader, and President F. W. de Klerk.

The developments followed Monday's massacre in Ciskei, where ANC demonstrators were killed by troops of the government-created black homeland.

The shootings plunged the country to its lowest point since before Feb. 2, 1990, when Mr. de Klerk announced that he would release Mr. Mandela from his long term as a political prisoner and would lift a 30-year ban on the ANC.

The government and the ANC are the two most important participants in South Africa's troubled effort to negotiate an end to apartheid.

Since the massacre, Mr. de Klerk and his aides have reverted to their pre-reform penchant for labeling ANC activists Communists and trouble-makers. In return, the ANC has kept up its accusations that the white-minority government strategy is to literally kill black opposition.

Despite the harsh rhetoric and the obvious loss of momentum toward a peaceful settlement, Mr. de Klerk called for an urgent meeting with Mr. Mandela to discuss the violence, which he blamed on Communists within the ANC.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC secretary-general, accepted the president's request at a news conference yesterday, following a lengthy meeting of the organization's top leadership committee.

He said the ANC was accepting Mr. de Klerk's invitation because "the government seemed to come around to realize that constitutional negotiations cannot proceed meaningfully with the current levels of violence."

The ANC's agreement to the meeting appeared to pave the way for a long-awaited breakthrough in negotiations which have been stalled since June 23, though meaningful results would be difficult to reach.

"I believe relations between the government and the ANC are so bad that it's unlikely the meeting can produce anything positive," said David Welsh of the University of Cape Town's political studies department.

The ANC had refused to resume negotiations until the government met a list of demands drawn up to prove Mr. de Klerk was serious.

The ANC has been touchy about meeting with the government since it called off negotiations after the June 18 massacre of more than 40 residents in Boipatong, a black township and ANC stronghold near Johannesburg.

The conviction has grown among ANC leaders that negotiations in the last two years have been little more than a charade used by the government to give the impression of progress.

They also believe the South African government has had a hand in the mostly internecine violence that has claimed more than 7,000 black lives since the reform process began. And they think the aim is to weaken the ANC and intimidate its followers.

Now the ANC has turned its attention to the black homelands that were first created by the government's apartheid policy and then maintained by it financially and militarily.

ANC leaders say there appears to be a deliberate strategy to blunt any support for the ANC in the homelands. The Ciskei protest demonstration Monday was planned to counter that perceived strategy. It was meant to put pressure on an unpopular homeland leader whose police have a reputation for harassing, beating and imprisoning ANC activists.

It also was designed to thwart what the ANC leaders see as a plan to retain the quasi-independent homelands as pockets of black support for the white government.

Tom Lodge, a political scientist and nationally recognized expert on the ANC, said the ANC sought to "politically weaken the position of those homelands that adopt a sympathetic attitude toward the government or those homeland leaders that are seen be working closely with the government."

Their specific goal was to force the resignation of Brig. Oupa Joshua Gqozo, the Ciskei strongman, and in the process send a message to other homeland leaders, Mr. Lodge said.

He speculated that the ANC might still get the political result it wanted from the demonstration, which turned into an embarrassment for Mr. de Klerk.

"I think it's quite possible that when all the angry speeches are over, de Klerk's administration will move discreetly to try and press for some change of the regime in Ciskei. Gqozo is an unfortunate associate," said Mr. Lodge, a professor at the University of Witwatersrand. "He sure as hell ain't a vote-getter."

But the ANC could score a big political gain if it succeeds in shaking up the black homeland leaders with massive demonstrations on their doorsteps.

OC "This might well create a great deal of nervousness among those

other homeland leaders who haven't gone over to the ANC side. So they might achieve a realignment," said Mr. Lodge.

The ANC has already targeted other homelands. On Wednesday they demonstrated inside Qwaqwa, the smallest homeland. Later this month, the ANC plans to confront authorities in Bophutatswana, the only homeland where the organization is officially banned.

The most difficult confrontation would come if the ANC decides to confront Mangosutho Buthelezi's KwaZulu homeland, the base of the ANC's most determined and best organized opponent.

A group of U.N. observers was scheduled to arrive this weekend as permanent monitors during the period of political transition. The United Nations is sending at least 30 observers, and the European Community has said it will dispatch another 15.

Mr. Botha issued an appeal for another special envoy, such as Cyrus R. Vance, who came to South Africa in May and held meetings with all major political groups.

Mr. Botha asked for a special U.N. envoy, in addition to the monitors, to play a peace-keeping role.

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