FW sets a tough poser for the ANC

President FW de Klerk grabbed the initiative in the pre-negotiation process last night when he lifted the State of Emergency outside war-torn Natal and accepted a joint African National Congress/government report on the question of exiles and political prisoners. The state president’s rapid action to remove obstacles to peace talks has left the ANC indecisive on a set of key policy issues and allowed the government to edge ahead in the contest to control the political pace in the country. 

ANC deputy president Nelson Mandela yesterday bailed the end of South Africa’s four-year-old State of Emergency as ‘‘a victory for the people, black and white” after talks with French Prime Minister Francois Mitterand in Paris. But his colleagues inside the country immediately distanced themselves from his statement, saying there was not yet cause to celebrate.
Ahmed Kathrada, head of the ANC Information Department, told reporters at a press conference in Johannesburg late yesterday that De Klerk had not gone far enough.

“Our deputy president has already been over-generous with praise. When Mandela went into prison 27 years ago, he had no vote. Today he still bas no vote,” Kathrada said. De Klerk appears to have created these differences of emphasis in the liberation movement by posing a set of difficult policy issues for the ANC and putting its leadership under heavy pressure to resolve them. In his speech to a joint sitting of the three houses of parliament, De Klerk said the government was ready to implement recommendations in the report of the joint ANC/government committee regarding an amnesty for exiles and political prisoners - and that the ANC would have to account for any delay in this regard. 

In the meantime the government was prepared to release 48 unnamed political prisoners “as a gesture” to give impetus to full-scale peace talks. The cabinet believes yesterday’s moves have met most of the ANC’s preconditions for negotiations and any further hold-ups in the process will be the movement’s responsibility. “The ANC must now stop vacillating,” De Klerk told parlian1ent when he announced yesterday that the Emergency would not be renewed outside Natal when it expires tonight. “The time has now arrived for the ANC to state unequivocally where it stands on key issues.” 

Mandela welcomed the lifting of the State of Emergency but criticised the government’s determination to retain these powers in Natal. The ANC leader is currently on a 13-nation world tour to explain his organisation’s stance on negotiations and sanctions. “One of the central issues (in South Africa) was the lifting of the State of Emergency ... As long as it lasted, no peaceful political activity was possible,” be said. “We are happy it has been lifted, but do not claim it as a victory for the ANC, although everybody knew that it was one of our main demands. It is a victory for the people of South Africa as a whole, both black and white.” 

Asked about the Natal situation, he said: “I do not think retention of the State of Emergency (there) is going to help ... It has been enforced since 1986 and despite the fact it has been repeated, the level of violence has not abated ... so it has served no purpose whatsoever.” Mandela’s closest aide and the head of the ANC’s internal leadership, Walter Sisulu, yesterday echoed these objections by telling reporters that an end to the entire State of Emergency was necessary for political life in South Africa to be normalised. Sisulu said it was significant that De Klerk chose today, when Mandela was in France, to make these announcements. “It was time to water down the effects of Mandel a’s mission.” 

Other ANC leaders stressed that the government was still able to wield draconian powers in terms of the Internal Security Act and the Public Safety Act and that the movement was demanding that these go. The lifting of sanctions would only be considered when the ANC’s demand for constituent assembly to devise a new post-apartheid constitution as seriously addressed, said Sisulu. But De Klerk preempted many of these objections in his address to parliament yesterday. He stressed the government was already reassessing other security legislation which the ANC had identified during the recent Groote Schuur talks as impediments to free and peaceful politics. 

Despite ANC criticism yesterday of the decision to retain the Emergency in Natal, the movement ‘s leadership accepted the need for special measures and the use of troops in the strife-tom province during last month’s Groote Schuur talks. De Klerk said the latest government initiative- combined with the imminent scrapping of the Separate Amenities - Act and an intention to review the Group Areas Act and the Land Act next -placed an onus on the ANC to reconsider its stance on the armed struggle and sanctions. 

De Klerk questioned the ANC’s position on sanctions in the light of Mandel a’s recent statement that the ANC wanted a non-racial democracy with a powerful economy in South Africa. De Klerk also used the issue of the Emergency to implement countermeasures against the right-wing offensive to stop his reform programme. He announced the government had decided to spend R1-billion on revamping the police force ostensibly in order to bring the security situation in Natal under control. The cabinet has never relied on police reinforcements as the key to ending the violence in Natal and it is believed the real motive is to contain right-wing dissent ·and desertions from the force. The R1-billion will bring an extra 10 000 members to the force.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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