De Klerk, Mandela tangle rhetorically

October 23, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Even as the war of words between the recipients of this year's Nobel Peace Prize heated up, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela appeared strongly committed to going ahead with South Africa's first all-inclusive election in April.

Speaking in two TV interviews Thursday night, Mr. Mandela, president of the African National Congress (ANC), said that President de Klerk was guilty of terrorism for approving a raid on blacks suspected of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of five youths, two reportedly 12 years old.

"I fully understand the anger of our people against Mr. de Klerk and condemn his action in the strongest terms," Mr. Mandela said.

In an interview with the foreign press yesterday, Mr. de Klerk said the target of the raid, the Azanian People's Liberation Army, the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress, has been responsible for deaths of many innocent civilians.

"I did not authorize the killing of children," he said. "I authorized a military action against an APLA arms cache. That people were killed in the raid is extremely unfortunate. That they were apparently very young people is even more unfortunate."

He said he would not engage in a rhetorical war with Mr. Mandela and said "other leaders must show similar restraint."

But later, when asked yet again if he would apologize for apartheid -- and responding yet again that he would not apologize for the good intentions behind the policy of "separate development" but for the harmful aspects caused by its failure -- he added an attack on Mr. Mandela.

"I want to know why you do not ask him about what happened in some of the ANC's camps," he said, referring to torture and wrongful deaths that the ANC recently confirmed took place in its military camps in Angola during the 1980s.

"We must close the books on the past," he said.

Whatever the war of words, both leaders seemed committed to the April 27 election date even as major hurdles loom in negotiations on a new constitution.

Mr. de Klerk again raised the possibility of holding a referendum -- which would be South Africa's first nonracial vote -- if the parties that have walked out of the negotiations refuse to endorse its product.

He reiterated the current timetable, a negotiated constitution in three weeks approved by the state parliament at the end of November setting up the Transition Executive Council, a multiracial quasi-government that is supposed to insure fair elections in April.

He said that even holding a referendum perhaps late this year or early in 1994 would not delay that process, noting that the vote he called last year in which whites approved his reform measure took only 3 1/2 weeks to organize.

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