Mandela, Buthelezi end war of words, will meet

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

Johannesburg, South Africa -- In a major breakthrough, black leaders Nelson Mandela and Mangosutho Buthelezi have agreed to put their war of words aside and hold a peace conference, it was announced yesterday.

Mr. Mandela's African National Congress and Mr. Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party have been locked in a deadly rivalry that has stalled South Africa's transition to democracy.

The ANC's national executive committee also abandoned its long opposition to power-sharing with the government.

For the first time, it expressed a willingness to consider a limited-time government of "national unity," in which minority parties with proven support, such as President F. W. de Klerk's National Party and Mr. Buthelezi's Inkatha Party, would play an important part.

By modifying its negotiating stand, the ANC hopes to hasten the process of writing a new constitution that extends voting rights to blacks, ends President De Klerk's monopoly on political power and ends widespread uncertainty in the country.

The ANC-Inkatha agreement also is a good omen for multiparty talks on the country's future, which have been hopelessly deadlocked since the June 17 massacre of 43 people in Boipatong, a pro-ANC township.

The agreement was brokered by and announced by the National Peace Committee, a group created last year to monitor violence and work toward resolving conflicts as this volatile country moves from apartheid to democracy. It was confirmed by the ANC and Inkatha organizations.

John Hall, executive director of the peace committee, said the planned meeting represented "a great step forward" in the tense relations between the country's most important black political organizations. No date has been set for the meeting.

Mr. Mandela repeatedly had refused appeals from Mr. Buthelezi for a meeting. He said this week that he would meet with the Zulu leader if Mr. Buthelezi would "disarm his men" and agree to a ban on carrying weapons in public, among other things. Mr. Buthelezi flatly refused.

The agreement on a meeting and the abandonment of its opposition to power-sharing seem to be part of a new ANC attempt to put the country back on a fast track toward negotiations after months of bickering and battling with Inkatha and the Pretoria government.

The de Klerk government persistently has advocated power-sharing as a means of ensuring a smooth transition to multi-racial government.

But the ANC, until now, has demanded a transfer of power from the small white minority to the black majority.

Speaking at a news conference in Durban, Mr. Mandela said ANC leaders "recognized that the crisis in our country has reached a critical point which demands an urgent breakthrough."

He said the organization's governing committee agreed to spare no effort in pushing the country toward a negotiated political settlement and elections to establish an interim government sometime next year.

Tom Lodge, a political scientist, said the ANC clearly is concerned about the sort of country it would inherit if the current conflicts were prolonged.

"The ANC feels the more protracted the transition process is, the weaker the new government will be," he said, and the smaller its prospects for success.

Wim Booyse, a risk analyst for foreign companies, said the ANC was practicing "reasonable politics" now to get negotiations restarted, as opposed to the confrontational politics it was practicing a few months ago to appease radicals in its constituency.

Mr. Mandela walked out of negotiations in June after the Boipatong massacre, accusing the government of sponsoring violence against black communities, particularly those that support the ANC.

He charged that Mr. Buthelezi's supporters were acting as surrogates for the government in a campaign to destabilize the ANC and weaken it at the negotiating table.

The thin-skinned, explosive Mr. Buthelezi has taken strong offense at being labeled Mr. de Klerk's puppet. He has insisted that he is a significant leader in the country and said that Mr. Mandela should meet with him.

Meanwhile, one person was killed and at least 34 injured in an attack on train commuters to Johannesburg from the black township of Soweto. Police said about a dozen armed men in a mini-van opened fire on the passing early morning train, sending passengers leaping from the cars.

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