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Anti-Apartheid Front Launches New Campaign to Free Mandela

December 16, 1985|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

DURBAN, South Africa — The United Democratic Front, South Africa's largest coalition of anti-apartheid groups, launched a new campaign here Sunday for the release of jailed black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela, warning the government that until he is free there will be no peace in this strife-torn country.

Albertina Sisulu, one of the front's national presidents, said Mandela's release is now the No. 1 political priority of blacks, who believe that this would bring about negotiations not only for ending apartheid but for working out a new, "non-racial, democratic" constitutional system replacing minority white rule.

"We have come to demand that Nelson Mandela be released and that no conditions be attached to his release," Sisulu told a rally of 2,500 in a soccer stadium here. "Mandela is our leader. He is a man known to the people and chosen by the people. As long as the government won't release Mandela, there will be no peace in this country."

After a year of intense government pressure, including treason charges against many of its tops officials, the United Democratic Front is counting on the Mandela campaign to restore its sapped energy and to help rebuild its organization.

Replacing Detained Leaders

Curnick Ndlovu, a veteran labor leader who is the front's national chairman, said that extensive efforts are now under way to replace local officials and workers who have been arrested or detained, to re-establish coordination between regional branches and to reorient the group nationally so that it challenges the government daily.

He and other speakers called for greater discipline, particularly among the angry and increasingly alienated young blacks of the urban townships outside South Africa's major cities. "Without discipline, absolute discipline, we will accomplish nothing," Billy Nair, a leader of the Natal Indian Congress and the United Democratic Front in Natal Province, told the rally, "and we will destroy all our efforts."

But immediately after the 2 1/2-hour rally, several hundred black youths, chanting and dancing, emerged in a phalanx from the stadium and almost immediately stoned two nearby police vehicles. They then attacked passing cars and buses with stones and sticks and broke the windows of some neighborhood stores in a 15-minute melee.

The violence deeply embarrassed the United Democratic Front, several of its officials said later Sunday, because it shows that black leaders are unable to enforce discipline among their followers and it raises a serious question about the political maturity of blacks.

"We played right into the system's (the government's) hands," one of the front's top officials remarked as he returned to Johannesburg. "They will use this to support their contention that we are not nonviolent as we claim, that we oppose peaceful change . . . and that, in short, we should be outlawed as a threat to law and order in the country."

Youths Grow More Militant

But the militancy of black youths is growing rapidly, and the mood among them increasingly is to strike at the government, the police, the army, whatever the circumstances, whatever the risks.

Ishmael Mkhabela, president of the black-consciousness Azanian People's Organization, a political rival of the United Democratic Front, put it this way at his group's annual convention in a Durban suburb Sunday: "Our people shall no longer die passively at the hands of their adversaries. . . . The gun-shy Azanians (South African blacks) have in struggle gradually learned the lesson of an eye for an eye. Enemy fire is answered now by revolutionary fire."

The United Democratic Front's rally also marked the acquittal on charges of high treason of 12 of its top leaders, including Sisulu and Archie Gumede, another of its national presidents. The prosecution dropped the charges last week after a principal witness, a university specialist on revolutionary theory, acknowledged that he was not sure whether the front and its principal affiliates are committed to the violent overthrow of the government.

"We are demanding justice and peace, and we will never settle for anything else," Mewa Ramgobin, another of the acquitted leaders, told the rally. "And, before our leaders are released from prison, we will settle for nothing at all."

Elsewhere in this troubled nation, six people, members of two white families vacationing on a game ranch near the border with Zimbabwe, were killed Sunday evening when the light truck in which they were riding detonated a land mine planted by black nationalist guerrillas.

It was the seventh land mine explosion in the Messina area in the last three weeks and raised immediate fears that many more may have been planted there by guerrillas of the African National Congress than first thought--and that South Africa might launch an attack on Zimbabwe in retaliation.

South African Defense Headquarters said in Pretoria that five other people, members of the same two families, were seriously injured in the explosion about 20 miles from Messina.

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