Take the gap, ANC

ANC leader Walter Sisulu was expected to return home this week with a frill response from the organisation. He came back empty-handed. Instead, Secretary-General Alfred Nzo issued a statement telling people not to do anything rash until his executive had decided how to proceed. 

The ANC and its allies inside the country have been caught off-guard.
They spent months trying to set the agenda for settlement with the Harare Declaration. They skillfully lobbied for its acceptance by the Organisation of African Unity, the Frontline States, the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations. Then suddenly De Klerk turned the situation around. De Klerk has had the advantage of surprise, and this has enabled him to play the conjurer’s trick of appearing to be reasonable without having to concede much. 

The ANC has three options: 

  • Remain in exile until all its cadres can return, all political prisoners are released and all security laws have been abolished. This would leave the situation unchanged, except that De Klerk would keep the initiative firmly in his hands. He would appear reasonable and open, while the ANC would seem defensive and petty. 
  • Hold out for more concessions, such as the release of more political prisoners, amnesty for all exiles and the lifting of the Emergency. This would take some bard dealing, and stretch the matter out for months of doubt and confusion.
  • Take the gap opened up by De Klerk. Send home a planeload of exiles, including senior ANC members, some famous artists, writers and musicians. They would receive an enthusiastic welcome and could set up offices around the country. 

This would call De Klerk’s bluff. He would have to deal with a high· profile return and massive welcoming ceremonies. Even if be wanted to, he would find it difficult to take action against those who came back. The world’s eyes would turn from De Klerk to the ANC leadership, who would no longer be isolated in Lusaka, but part of the day-to-day political struggle here. This is not an easy option; it carries many serious risks. 

The ANC would have to leave key people in exile; it would risk resentment from the many “young lions” who are in camps in Tanzania and itching to come home; it would be in the un· comfortable position of going about its daily life while many of its cadres are still in prison for carrying out its instructions; it would risk action under the many remaining security laws and Emergency regulations if things turned sour, 

But if the ANC does not come home soon, it will have a lot of explaining to do. It will have to tell the international community why it is not responding to De Klerk’s positive moves. It will have to explain to those who have struggled so long and hard for the ANC and other organisations to be legalised why their victory means so little. 

Most importantly, this option will allow the ANC to get down to what really needs to be done: mobilising enough people and enough support to ensure that De Klerk cannot turn back. Because, with international pressure on him easing, and rightwing pressure on him growing, he is going to be tempted. So, come home, all you exiles!

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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