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South Africa: An Emphasis on Violence

April 27, 1986|Tendayi Kumbula | Tendayi Kumbula, a former Times reporter, is assistant editor of the Herald in Harare, Zimbabwe

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Apartheid is dead. Long live apartheid. That seems to be the gist of the message from South Africa, Zimbabwe's embattled southern neighbor, where President P.W. Botha's proposed glacial racial reforms have encountered strong black opposition.

Although Botha's moves peel away some layers of apartheid--by scrapping pass laws (which restrict black movement) and allowing blacks to own homes in their own ghettos--the pillars of legal racism remain virtually untouched. Racial segregation persists in housing, education and health services. And despite talk about power-sharing, effective political and economic power stays in the hands of the white minority.

The banned African National Congress, the country's major guerrilla organization, has rejected Botha's reforms and instead bluntly demanded the unconditional dismantlement of apartheid. The ANC has also said it will settle for nothing less than a unitary South Africa with a one-man, one-vote franchise. It is committed to its Freedom Charter claiming the country belongs to all those who live in it, black and white, a non-racial country where citizens are not classified by race or ethnicity.

During a recent two-hour private interview at ANC headquarters-in-exile at Lusaka, Zambia, the movement's president, Oliver Tambo, was adamant: Violence would continue to escalate until apartheid was destroyed. In 1 1/2 years of black unrest, more than 1,300 people, almost all of them black, have been killed. South Africa faces the prospect of more violence, white vigilantism, labor unrest, consumer and school boycotts--all provoking more violence and counterviolence. It also faces a stubborn president who blithely claims that at least 50% of the blacks support him and that 80% of the whites are behind him.

Arrayed against Botha are a variety of anti-apartheid groups of which the ANC is the most prominent; it has vowed to make apartheid unworkable and South Africa ungovernable. It seeks to turn every corner of South African into a battlefield and to move the struggle from black townships into previously immune white suburbs, towns and farming areas.

Tambo acknowledged that the new strategy and emphasis on Spear of the Nation, the ANC's military wing, is likely to result in civilian casualties because of people caught in the crossfire. Previously, the ANC had tended to concentrate on military and police targets, avoiding soft targets. Despite the change in strategy and tactics, Tambo denied charges by the Botha regime that he was leading a terrorist organization.

"We could have targeted cinemas, beaches, schools, resort areas or supermarkets," he said. "We have not done so. If you compare what the ANC has done, action for action, with what the Pretoria regime has done, you will see that it is the apartheid regime that is the terrorist . . . . (it) regularly kills children, old people, defenseless refugees and destabilizes its neighbors.

"Even though we are a people who are fighting for national liberation, for a cause that is supported worldwide, against a regime that is a pariah and are justified in using all methods available to us to bring that regime to an end, we have not resorted to terrorism."

Tambo declined to say how many guerrillas the ANC has. His aides and diplomats in this area estimate ANC forces at 8,000 to 10,000 at bases in a number of African countries, plus another 2,000 deployed within South Africa. The movement's new strategy is to discourage young people from leaving the country for military training, to train them internally instead.

The ANC will not have the kind of rear bases that Zimbabwean guerrillas had in Mozambique and Zambia or the Mozambicans had in Tanzania during their freedom struggles. Tambo said South Africans have to take a different tack. They cannot rely on the militarily weak black-ruled front-line states to protect them, nor can they count on suitable guerrilla terrain. And they know they are facing the best-trained and best-equipped conventional army in sub-Saharan Africa, backed up by a heavily armed white populace.

Therefore the ANC and its allies want to form a grand alliance against apartheid, to join with all anti-apartheid groups in an effort to isolate the Pretoria regime. White businessmen, academics and opposition political leaders have flocked to Lusaka to confer with the ANC.

The ANC has also forged links with the United Democratic Front, which claims about 2 million members, and the powerful Confederation of South African Trade Unions and other groups. It is far stronger today than when it was banned more than a quarter of a century ago, evident in the proliferation of its illegal flags and uniforms at funeral services for unrest victims. Its jailed leader Nelson Mandela is easily the most popular political leader in the country. Mandela, Tambo's close friend and erstwhile law partner, has become an international rallying point for internal and external anti-apartheid groups.

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