Mandela, on the stump, unveils platform

January 30, 1994|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Johannesburg Bureau

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela unveiled the election platform yesterday that is expected to carry his African National Congress to victory as black and white right-wingers vowed to boycott the polling and raised the specter of violent resistance.

Mr. Mandela, launching the ANC's first day of campaigning, rode a 14-car "democracy train" through the suburbs of Johannesburg and presented the group's platform to nearly 1,000 diplomats and business, ethnic and religious leaders at a meeting hall near the black township of Soweto.

"Today we are almost there," Mr. Mandela declared on a stage surrounded by green, black and gold balloons -- the ANC's colors -- and a banner with the party's new slogan: "A Better Life for All." He promised "a government that understands the needs of the future . . . a government that puts people first."

Opinion polls show that the ANC is the choice of a majority of those likely to vote in South Africa's first multiracial election April 27, but its rhetoric yesterday was overshadowed by two other meetings on how to resist an ANC-led government.

About 10,000 right wingers gathered in a huge hall at the fairgrounds here and declared the creation of their own government. It is to take charge of the affairs of Afrikaners,the descendants of the nation's original Dutch and French white settlers.

In a highly charged atmosphere, the all-white crowd cheered every call for violence, and shouted down suggestions of possible participation in the April elections.

It was the many khaki-clad, armed members of the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement who led the protests when Constand Viljoen, a retired general who has been negotiating for the right wing, suggested a vote as one way of demonstrating Afrikaner strength.

"When I try to warn people that there might be violence, people say I'm crying wolf," Mr. Viljoen said at a news conference. "But now you can see the mood of the people."

Some 300 miles to the south in Ulundi, Mangosuthu Buthelezi denounced the interim constitution that has been adopted to rule the country for the next five years.

He spoke to a meeting of his Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party that is supposed to decide whether the party, which walked out of the negotiations that drafted the constitution, will participate in the elections.

"I do not see how we can enter elections under the provisions of the interim constitution," he said. "I say we must oppose the constitution itself as a matter of principle."

While saying that he was not calling for violence, he predicted that would result if the constitution in its current form becomes law after the election. He called upon his followers to have "the courage to enter the politics of resistance."

Decision expected today

The Inkatha meeting is scheduled to announce its decision on elections today. Inkatha and the right wing are united in a group called the Freedom Alliance, which has been negotiating with the government and the ANC for modifications to the constitution that would allow more powers for local regions.

Their argument is that, if the powers were granted, Zulus would be able to control their affairs in the Natal region, while Afrikaners might be able to have similar control over another region. The ANC has rejected any governments or regions based on ethnic or racial distinctions.

Complicating this weekend's picture is the fact that those negotiations were supposed to end last week. But instead, after a late-night session on Thursday, it was announced that there would be further talks tomorrow.

Unfilled demand

Even if some agreement had been reached, it is doubtful that yesterday's meeting of the right-wingers in Pretoria would have been satisfied with anything less than their long-sought-after Volkstat, an independent homeland for the Afrikaners who instituted apartheid when they came to power in 1948. The ANC has rejected that notion, but has proposed other ways of protecting Afrikaner rights.

Mr. Viljoen suggested that voting in the April 27 election could show the strength and location of the Afrikaners, allowing a homeland to be carved out of South Africa, along with several Afrikaner-controlled cantons throughout the country.

The crowd would have none of that. "We're not going to vote with the Antichrist," one woman yelled out.

Separate vote sought

"Yes, let the people vote," said Eugene Terre Blanche, head of the ultra-right-wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB). "But not on the ballot of the ANC."

Instead, there is the possibility of a separate election only for Afrikaners perhaps at independent polling places set up on April 27. That would be administered by the interim Afrikaner government that was sworn in yesterday. Its president is Ferdi Hartzenberg, leader of the Conservative Party.

All speakers at yesterday's meeting portrayed the Afrikaners as a persecuted minority that has merely sought freedom and self-determination throughout its troubled history.

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