Mandela digs in

The ANC’s star takes on a leading role

D’ARCY JENISH March 12 1990

Mandela digs in

The ANC’s star takes on a leading role

D’ARCY JENISH March 12 1990

Mandela digs in


The ANC’s star takes on a leading role

Three thousand people jammed the airport in the Zambian capital of Lusaka to greet South Africa’s black nationalist

leader, Nelson Mandela. He emerged from a Zambia Airways jet and raised a clenched fist to salute the cheering crowd. On the tarmac, a host of foreign officials, including Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, External Affairs

Minister Joe Clark and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, were waiting to greet him.

Also among the crowd were the 71-year-old Mandela’s old comrades from the African National Congress (ANC), many of whom fled into exile during the 27 years that Mandela spent in South African jails for his opposition to apartheid. The joyous reception that began Mandela’s first trip abroad since his release last month underscored his tremendous international prestige. And, two days later, the ANC ensured that Mandela will play a leading role in upcoming negotiations with the South African government by naming him deputy president of the movement, under president Oliver Tambo.

Mandela was in Lusaka for a series of meetings with leaders of the so-called frontline states, including Zambia,

Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, and to hold talks with a delegation of Commonwealth leaders, including Clark.

Mandela also met with the ANC’s National Executive Committee for the first time since his release on Feb. 11.

After two days of talks, the ANC executive announced that it will open a new head-

quarters in Johannesburg and will contact the South African government to arrange dates and locations for preliminary talks aimed at drafting a new constitution. But despite pressure from Clark and other Western leaders, Mandela and the ANC leadership remained adamant on one issue: the armed struggle against South Africa’s white-minority regime cannot yet be suspended. Said Mandela: “We can’t be

expected to make any concessions to the government, no matter what difficulties it has.” Meanwhile, in Pretoria, South African President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk was under fire in parliament last week because of allegations that his defence minister controlled death squads that have killed anti-apartheid activists. De Klerk has also faced strenuous opposition

from hard-line, right-wing supporters of apartheid since he announced his decision last month to release Mandela and legalize the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations.

Last week, in Lusaka, even before Mandela’s arrival, Clark said that by formally renouncing the use of violence, the ANC could counter the right-wing pressure on the president. Declared Clark: “It would be very helpful

for the ANC to take the decision to move away from the commitment to the armed struggle.” But Mandela told the external affairs minis-

ter during a 50-minute meeting that the ANC would renounce the armed struggle only after it begins to negotiate with the South African government to end white-minority rule. And he said that de Klerk has not gone far enough to pave the way to negotiations. Mandela said that the ANC has set three preconditions for even preliminary discussions, aimed at removing the obstacles to full-scale negotiations. Those include the lifting of the state of emergency, imposed in June, 1986, the release of all political prisoners and the free return of all ANC leaders in exile to South Africa. Mandela said that de Klerk’s reluctance to meet the ANC demands is a sign that his government is not yet ready for talks on power-sharing between

blacks and whites. Added Mandela: “It is quite clear that the government is not prepared to meet us, and you can’t expect us to make any concessions to the government.”

Despite the ANC’s refusal to renounce the use of force, several ANC officials said privately last week that the commitment to the armed struggle was more symbolic than real. Zambia-based Martin (Chris) Hani, a senior member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the ANC, said that the movement would not order any attacks on South Africa while negotiations were in progress. Another official, who asked not to be named, added, “We all know that the armed struggle is more hot air than hot lead.” But the official added that the ANC leadership would risk alienating younger, more militant members of the organization if it formally renounced the use of force. “Too many of our young people will feel betrayed if we just give it up now,” the official said.

The ANC leaders were divided over Mandela’s role in the organization. The issue arose because Tambo, who is in a Swedish hospital recovering from a stroke, is expected to announce his retirement

by the end of the year. ANC officials said last week that the issue of succession triggered a heated debate between moderates and radicals within the national executive committee.

The militants opposed Mandela’s elevation to deputy president because he has had no official position within the organization since he was imprisoned in 1962, when he was serving as commander-in-chief of the ANC’s military

wing. But pragmatists within the executive committee, who eventually prevailed, argued that Mandela possesses the statesmanship and international profile to enhance the ANC’s image in South Africa and abroad. As well, moderate South African whites may trust him because he has not been connected with the armed struggle of the past three decades. Although his duties as deputy president have not been spelled out, Mandela said, “I am prepared to serve in any role the national executive instructs me to fill.”

Although ANC officials said that their Johannesburg office would open soon, the status of many of its members, now living in exile in Zambia, remains unclear. At the end of the twoday executive meeting, Mandela addressed a rally of thousands of flag-waving, chanting ANC exiles and told them that the time for going home was drawing closer. That same day, veteran ANC activists Ray Alexander, 76, and her 83-year-old husband, Jack Simon, became the first ANC exiles to return since de Klerk lifted a ban on the organization. They were greeted at Johannesburg’s Jan Smuts airport by about 500 ANC supporters and family members—many of whom they had not seen for a quarter of a century. But many other exiles expressed concern about their future because the de Klerk government refuses to declare unequivocally that they will escape prosecution. Said Themba Khumalo, an ANC refugee in Zambia: “Once I know I will not be prosecuted, I am packing and going home. I want to see the country I left more than 20 years ago.” Meanwhile, the South African government, already under fire from right-wing whites opposed to de Klerk’s reforms, faced mounting pressure from both ends of the political spectrum last week over allegations that Defence Minister Magnus Malan controlled a death squad that killed anti-apartheid activists. Last month, The Star newspaper of Johannesburg reported that Malan controlled the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a covert group that police investigators have linked to the murders of two anti-apartheid activists. At least 58 such murders are still under investigation.

President de Klerk said last week that he would put all covert operations of the South African military under direct cabinet control. But he defended Malan against what he called a “witch-hunt based on innuendo.” Still, even the pro-apartheid Conservative Party has demanded that Malan resign. “Malan has become an embarrassment to the government,” the party said in a statement. At the same time, the liberal Democratic Party co-leader Denis Worrall said that, unless the government at least suspends Malan during an investigation into alleged death-squad activity, the issue could lead to further racial tensions. Said Worrall: “The black reaction is going to be one of anger because blacks see this as a case of the government manipulating the truth.” Clearly, South Africans still face many obstacles on the precarious road to reform.