Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

ANC Leaders Feel Force of Grass Roots Discontent Historic Congress Takes Militant Stance in Response to Ongoing Violence

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

ANC Leaders Feel Force of Grass Roots Discontent Historic Congress Takes Militant Stance in Response to Ongoing Violence

Article excerpt

THE African National Congress, heeding a mood of growing militancy among its rank-and-file, has set the scene for a confrontation with the government to bolster its position in political negotiations.

The ANC's first consultative conference held inside the country was dominated by an outpouring of frustration and anger among the 1,600 delegates over continuing political violence in the black townships. The violence has claimed an estimated 3,500 lives this year - 150 of them in the past two weeks. Many ANC supporters accuse elements in government security forces with complicity in letting the violence continue.

While ANC leaders reaffirmed their commitment to negotiations, conference decisions stressed the need for mass protest, internal organization, and measures to ensure that the ANC did not become a hostage to negotiations.

The most dramatic event of the conference was a decision in favor of maintaining existing economic sanctions until the ANC decided it was time to lift them.

The hard-line decision, which was linked to violence and repression by the government, highlighted the large gap between a handful of ANC negotiators and an increasingly militant grass roots.

The rationale for the ANC move appeared to be to exert maximum pressure on President Frederik de Klerk ahead of his speech to the opening of Parliament next month in which he is expected to announce further reforms.

The decision clashed with the European Community's reversal of its ban on new investment in South Africa.

The decision, taken at a weekend summit of European leaders in Rome, represented the second major international breakthrough for Mr. De Klerk since he legalized the ANC and released Nelson Mandela in February.

The EC said trade sanctions would be lifted once key apartheid laws, like enforced residential segregation, are scrapped and all political prisoners freed.

"It is clear that the government's view - that the process of change is irreversible - is enjoying ever-increasing recognition," announced Foreign Minister Roelof Botha.

The first breakthrough for De Klerk came in September at meeting with President Bush at the White House. Following the meeting, Mr. Bush declared the process of change "irreversible." Bush sent a message to the European Community asking it to review its package of sanctions against South Africa.

The ANC insists that "irreversibility" will have been reached only when remaining apartheid laws and repressive security laws have been scrapped, political prisoners freed, and exiles indemnified.

Pallo Jordan, head of the ANC Information and Publicity department, said the EC decision showed that the Europeans had not been convinced by the ANC's arguments.

"We will have to re-persuade them," he said. "It should be on our initiative that sanctions are dropped."

The sanctions issue was put on the conference agenda by ANC President Oliver Tambo who received a hero's welcome last Thursday when he returned to South Africa after 30 years in exile. …

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