There’s been no major change in Washington's attitude toward the African National Congress, despite the apocalyptic local reaction to a United States Defence Department report classifying the outlawed resistance movement a "terrorist organisation". Diplomatic sources and American political analysts say the significance of the January 10 report has been "wildly overblown" – and insist it is wrong to conclude there has been a sudden hardening of the US view.

"It is a report intended as a reference book," said one diplomat, "not a policy statement." Confirmation of this view seemed to come from the Defence Department itself with the announcement by Assistant Secretary Charles Whitehead that the report would be "distributed to embassies, law enforcement organisations and libraries. "I hope it will be helpful to the general public," he said.

Other sources told the Weekly Mail that the Pentagon's 131-page "Terrorist Group Profiles", which lists 52 organisations including the ANC, has been in preparation since 1986. It has long been the practice of the Pentagon to refer to the ANC as "terrorist" in official pronouncements, they point out. "This doesn't represent any change, so it's hard to see what all the excitement is about," said one analyst. He added that "real" US policy to ward the ANC was represented more accurately by American calls on Pretoria to include the movement in "negotiations", and recent top-level meetings between US officials and ANC President Oliver Tambo.

This is supported by the fact that international reports on the publication of the document do not even mention the ANC's inclusion-groups focussed upon range from the Libyan­ based Abu Nidal Organisation to an obscure Ecuadorian movement whose title translates as "Alfaro Lives, Damn It". Even though the US report appears to herald no new political direction, however, it has provoked energetic responses back home. The govern­ment was patently delighted and this was reflected  in the SABC' s exhaustive coverage of the report.  

Foreign Affairs Minister Pik Botha said, "It is encouraging that the report has correctly condemned terrorism." The Conservative Party's foreign affairs spokesman, Tom Langley, said the decision would limit the ANC's diplomatic mobility. This has been offset by anger from the ANC as well as organisations like the National Union of Mineworkers, the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa and the Progressive Federal Party. In a statement to the Weekly Mail yesterday, the ANC's Lusaka office rejected the US report's characterisation out of hand.

"The correctness of our policy as enshrined in the Freedom Charter – and currently a matter of further nationwide discussion in the Constitutional Guidelines – has won the support of the overwhelming majority of our people." The statement condemned "scurrilous attempts to besmirch MK and the ANC", and concluded: "Let the ban on the ANC be lifted so we can be free to put our case before the entire nation." Yesterday the NUM said "the US's labelling of the ANC as a terrorist organisation must be condemned with the utter contempt it deserves. "The US, as the leader of imperialism, has a record of massacres of millions as in Vietnam under the pretext of the protection of Western civilisation and democracy. It is the Contras in Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Angola, and the state terrorism of the apartheid govern t that must be condemned, and not the ANC."

The NUM, South Africa's largest union, accused the "giant business corporations of the US and their Pen­tagon and CIA supporters" of benefiting from the retention of apartheid, and therefore from condemnation of the ANC. "If any organisation is worthy of being labelled 'terrorist'," said NUM, "it is the CIA." Idasa executive director Alex Boraine said the US decision was "extremely short-sighted and dangerous", and that the ANC was a reality which would not simply go away. ''The only way to resolve the conflict in South Africa is to involve the ANC in negotiations."

A PFP MP said the US report did not change the fact that the govern­ment would eventually have to come to terms with the ANC and other organisations. The report which has caused all the trouble was compiled by the US Defence Intelligence Agency. It was apparently prompted by statements made more than two years ago by then vice president George Bush and Defence Secretary Frank Carlucci. They had called for the "clear identification of terrorist organisations". Bush wrote the foreword for "Terrorist Group Profiles" and Carlucci the preface.

The newly-installed US president drew a distinction between people he viewed as ' "terrorists" and "freedom fighters". He wrote: ''Terrorists kill and maim defenceless men, women and children", while freedom fighters  "seek to adhere to international law and civilised standards of conduct". His implication is that while such groups as the Contras fall into the latter (acceptable) category, the ANC does not. The report includes profiles of organisations and leaders, as well as chronologies of actions allegedly undertaken by the various groups. Copies had not reached South Africa by the time of going to press, making it impossible to establish which other organisations active in Southern Africa – such as Unita or the Pan Africanist Congress – were included. Reports have mentioned Renamo in Mozambique.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Shaun Johnson
Guest Author

Related stories

Shaun Johnson: Charm without the smarm

The Weekly Mail hired him to get the training project off the ground; he did much, much more than that, writes Irwin Manoim

Who would I be?

Kopano Matlwa is the winner of the EU Literary Award 2006/07, for her novel <i>Coconut</i>. This is an extract.

Stand by for Emergency IV

​In recent weeks, extra-parliamentary resistance groups have experienced a pleasant deja vu.

Walking through Alex with Moses Mayekiso

​The last time Moses Mayekiso walked up Alexandra's 7th Avenue, its squalid shacks were framed by dark, thick smoke from burning barricades.

Is state preparing to lift Emergency?

The current Emergency expires in less than a month's time, on June 10..

Why Heunis quit

Shock letter of resignation last night a sign of sagging morale in NP.

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

‘Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of...

Yvette Raphael describes herself as a ‘professional protester, sjambok feminist and hater of trash’. Government officials would likely refer to her as ‘a rebel’. She’s fought for equality her entire life, she says. And she’s scared of no one

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Al-Shabab’s terror in Mozambique

Amid reports of brutal, indiscriminate slaughter, civilians bear the brunt as villages are abandoned and the number of refugees nears half a million

South Africa’s cities opt for clean energy

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions will hinge on the transport sector

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…