Mandela warns against white resurgence South African leader makes partisan farewell address as party president

December 17, 1997|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- President Nelson Mandela left his ruling African National Congress yesterday with a warning that opposition parties would unite in the next general election in an attempt to defeat the country's first black majority government and maintain white privilege here.

"Their desperate calls expressed in a cacophony of voices is -- defeat the ANC," he told more than 4,000 delegates at the ANC's 50th national conference in the northern city of Mafeking, in his last speech as president of the party.

"These opposition forces, for whom a genuinely non-racial society poses a threat, will not hesitate to use anything within their means to achieve their objective," he said, branding his opponents as "the architects and beneficiaries of apartheid."

Mandela's speech -- more than four hours long -- marked his retirement from the presidency of the party and a transfer of power within the ANC to a younger generation. Mandela, who is 79, will remain as president of the country until the next election in 1999.

For 10 seconds, amid much applause, Mandela embraced his much demonized former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as he reached her place among admirers after the speech.

Dressed in a yellow ANC T-shirt, Mandela delivered remarks that were part vituperative attack on his political foes, part visionary outline of the new South Africa and its role in what he called a continental "African renaissance," and part dissertation on the need for revolutionary idealism in a renewal.

His repeated broadsides against the opposition and the media were widened with warnings of efforts to alienate powerful traditional leaders from the ANC in rural areas and of unidentified "self-serving" counterrevolutionaries within the party's own ranks.

But it was the white political opposition that bore the brunt of his wrath. Accusing the National Party, which introduced apartheid almost 50 years ago, of "implacable hostility" to the ANC, he said: "Our experience over the last three years confirms that the National Party has not abandoned its objective of the total destruction of our organization and movement. The leopard has not changed its spots."

The National Party, he said, continued to use "fear" as a political tool, asserting: "As before, it has continued to frighten the national [white] minority against the ANC by threatening them with 'black vengeance' and 'red [Communist] danger.'

"Daily, its leadership propagates the entirely false notion that our policies are aimed at promoting the interests of Africans against those of the whites and coloreds [people of mixed race]."

He said NP and the Democratic Party, the other major white opposition group, were engaged in a competition to convince the white minority as to which would be "the most reliable and best defender of white privilege."

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the NP leader, denounced the speech as "un-statesmanlike and paranoid," and said he hoped it was not indicative of future ANC policies.

Mandela was strikingly amicable in his assessment of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, the country's second largest black political party and for years a violent foe of the ANC. Last weekend he suggested a merger between the two parties would be a "progressive" development, arousing some fears here of eventual creation of another African one-party state.

Turning to the mass media, he charged it with using the power it accrued during the apartheid era to oppose government policies and protect white privileges.

"I know these comments will be received with a tirade of denunciation, with claims that what we are calling for a media that acts as a lapdog rather than a watchdog," he said, adding that the conference would have to consider steps to improve the party's ability to communicate with the majority of voters.

Looking forward to the 1999 general election, when he will step down as national president, he said the party would face stiffer opposition than in its historic 1994 victory, which brought the first democratically-elected black government to power, ending the era of white minority rule.

"This must ring alarm bells among us, because this means that the objective that will be pursued by the forces opposed to the radical non-racial and non-sexist renewal of our society will be to deny us a popular mandate to carry out such a program," he said.

All political pointers suggest that the ANC is in an unassailable position for 1999, with the only uncertainty being the size of its win.

Mandela acknowledged strains within the party's governing alliance, which includes the ANC, the trade unions and the Communist Party. Tensions between the member organizations have been caused in part by the ANC's embrace of the free-market economy and its pro-business policies.

The conference, he said, would have to work out a new approach to the partnership, which was formed during "the struggle" when apartheid was their common enemy.

Mandela will be replaced as ANC president by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, a respected politician and diplomat who is also expected to succeed to the national presidency in 1999.

Mbeki's father was imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island, off the Cape Town coastline, during the apartheid era. Mbeki will address the conference on its last day, Saturday.

Pub Date: 12/17/97

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