S. African leaders to meet for first time in 3 months

September 26, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela and President F. W. de Klerk will meet today for the first time in three months after breaking a political logjam bathed in bloody confrontations.

To clear the way for the meeting, the government agreed yesterday to immediately release 150 political prisoners identified by Mr. Mandela's African National Congress, including three ANC soldiers convicted for bombings during the 1980s.

Mr. de Klerk told an audience in Durban he agreed to free the prisoners "as a deed of reconciliation."

He said, "It is time that the slate is cleaned and that a situation is created where we can get away from disputes and arguments to find future-oriented solutions."

The release of political prisoners was one of three demands the ANC wanted met before it would return to talks.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC's chief negotiator, said the government agreed to release the first 150 prisoners on a list of 550 this weekend, and to release the remainder by Nov. 15.

"The agreement reached today puts behind us the arguments of the past two years" on the subject of political prisoners, Mr. Ramaphosa told reporters. He said other agreements would be announced by Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela.

The meeting sparks new hope for the resumption of full-fledged multiparty negotiations aimed at setting up a multiracial interim government, which would draw up a constitution for the post-apartheid era.

The ANC walked out of negotiations in June after the massacre of more than 40 people in Boipatong township. The organization blamed the government for the attack and issued a list of 14 demands for the government to meet before negotiations could resume.

But in an apparent effort to make it easier for Mr. de Klerk, the organization later narrowed its list to three -- the release of political prisoners, a ban on carrying dangerous weapons in public, and security measures at migrant-worker hostels that have been staging points for several attacks on ANC strongholds.

The process seemed to be going nowhere until the country was jolted by another bloody massacre, the shooting of 28 ANC demonstrators in the black homeland of Ciskei Sept. 7.

Mr. de Klerk proposed an urgent meeting between the two leaders on the issue of violence and the ANC agreed in principle, but said the government still had to take steps to demonstrate it was sincere about negotiations. The prisoner release was announced yesterday.

"This is only a step forward on a long road, but it's an important step," said Zach de Beer, leader of the mostly white but progressive Democratic Party, which has acted as a mediator in the multiparty negotiations that began in December.

Other demands made earlier by the ANC have either been dropped for now or addressed indirectly by the government.

The ANC had insisted, for instance, that the government rein in its security forces and prevent attacks on black communities.

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