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Briton Calls for S. African Dialogue to Avert Civil War

July 24, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

PRETORIA, South Africa — British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe called Wednesday on South Africa's white-led minority government to enter a political dialogue with its black majority in order to resolve the deepening crisis and avert a civil war here.

Negotiations are "the most direct path to a democratic, prosperous and non-racial country," Howe said, and such talks are the only alternative to the political violence that has racked the country for the last two years.

"After 25 years, the wind of change in Africa is shaking its southern part to its roots," Howe said after a two-hour meeting in Pretoria with President Pieter W. Botha. "The question is not whether, but how far and how fast will South Africa change. In peace--or in deepening violence?"

No Details of Talks

He described his talks with the president and earlier with Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha as "candid, courteous and substantive," but he declined to provide any details, saying that progress depends on keeping the discussions confidential.

Howe, charged by the 12-nation European Communities with the task of promoting such a political dialogue, arrived here Wednesday on the second stage of what most diplomats see as a final international effort to promote peaceful change in South Africa.

The European Communities has called for the end of the current state of emergency, the release of imprisoned black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela, legalization of the African National Congress and other opposition groups and repeal of the remaining laws that en1718579811separation and minority white rule.

Representing the interests of the United States, the 49-nation Commonwealth and Britain's other allies as well, Howe at once acknowledged that South Africans themselves would have to settle their own problems but declared that "the international community cannot be indifferent" to developments here.

"If there is a chance that representatives of the free world can nudge the wheel of history towards peace and reconciliation, then that chance must surely be seized," Howe said.

Black Leaders Reject Talks

But Howe admitted that the refusal so far of many black leaders--Mandela and his wife Winnie, Bishop Desmond Tutu, officials of the United Democratic coalition of anti-apartheid groups and the African National Congress, among others--to meet him would handicap his effort to promote dialogue. Blacks believe the Howe mission, in fact, is a British attempt to avoid imposing economic sanctions on South Africa.

"To discover as a conciliator that my mission is viewed with mingled doubt, suspicion and even hostility does not discourage me," he said. "If it were not so, there would be no problems between those who want more change and those who resist it. All I can say, to every side, is that talking can solve many problems, however difficult, and violence very few."

Yet, senior British officials accompanying Howe said his chances of achieving any tangible results in the coming week are slim. They added that, depending on the outcome of a planned second meeting with President Botha next Tuesday, he might return for a third visit to the region late next month or in early September. The government's reform program will be clearer then and black hostility to his mission might be diminished, they said.

Howe, who had visited neighboring Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe earlier this month, returns to Lusaka, Zambia, today for further talks with President Kenneth D. Kaunda, chairman of the b1818321771adjacent to South Africa.

Seeks ANC Meetings

Howe hopes that Kaunda will persuade top African National Congress officials to meet with him and that this will clear the way for discussions with black leaders here. Later, Howe will visit Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, all former British territories now economically dependent on South Africa.

His agenda here appears very light. Aside from discussions with black businessmen and executives of British companies, his only known meeting outside the government is with Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the powerful Zulu leader.

Howe carefully laid out the framework for his mediation effort, wanting to bring the full weight of international pressure to bear on the government but without forcing it into a defensive retreat that would foreclose dialogue.

"Outsiders, whether they are regarded as enemies or friends, can only go cautiously if they wish to press successfully for change in South Africa," he said. "They may be intimately concerned, but it is not their country. Especially if the change is to be peaceful, it must come from within and be acceptable within. It must be accepted not just by those who find the present dispensation unbearable, but by those who fear for their future if change is too swift."

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