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S. African Liberals to Press for Talks With ANC

July 22, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The white South Africans who met with the outlawed African National Congress earlier this month for talks on the country's future declared on their return home Tuesday that they would campaign for negotiations with the rebel group.

Although met by angry right-wing demonstrations and harsh government criticism, the participants in the talks in Dakar, Senegal, reaffirmed their belief that the ANC is not the terrorist group portrayed by Pretoria but a major political party, probably the country's largest, that resorted to violence after all its efforts at peaceful change failed.

Alex Boraine, executive director of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa, which organized the meeting, said the participants concluded as a result of their talks that "serious discussions with the ANC must form part of the search for the resolution of conflict and the transition towards a peaceful and just future in South Africa."

Sees Hope in Talks

"We believe that, as a result of our conference in Dakar, we have demonstrated that such discussions can take place and that they can be constructive," Boraine said.

Christo Nel, a business consultant, said that some members of the delegation will meet soon with ministers in President Pieter W. Botha's Cabinet to relate what they had heard from the ANC in Dakar as well as their own views.

"There are several people in the government who understand the need for this type of discussion," Nel told newsmen, speaking for the delegation. "There are sectors of government very willing to listen and to debate, but there are also those who are hostile or who would, at least, show a hostile front on public platforms."

But the government, which regarded the group as naive and the talks as undercutting its own strategy of gradual political reform, replied with a 30-minute special program on state-run television that attacked the 75-year-old ANC as a Communist-led terrorist organization willing to use the most horrific violence to establish a one-party Marxist state here.

Those who now advocate compromise with the ANC, the program argued, are simply dupes who would be quickly discarded once the South African Communist Party had come to power. White South Africans must unite around the government, it continued, and ally themselves with black moderates to defeat the ANC, politically and diplomatically as well as military.

The program apparently is part of a major new propaganda effort by the government to counter what it acknowledges as recent ANC successes at winning support among whites as well as blacks within South Africa and at putting Pretoria even more on the defensive abroad.

"Terrorist violence and propaganda are two sides of the same coin, and both must be destroyed," Gen. Magnus Malan, the defense minister, said late last month, outlining government plans to "expose" the ANC, both here and overseas, as "terrorists and perpetrators of a hideous cause."

One of the state's hardest-hitting and slickest attacks yet on the ANC, the program focused repeatedly on the political violence of the last three years in South Africa, particularly the frenzied, bloody killings of suspected police informers and others seen as collaborating with the white-led minority government in Pretoria.

Radio South Africa, in a commentary reflecting government views, ridiculed the Dakar talks as "a most useful contribution to the furtherance of (ANC) strategy" and questioned the motives of Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, former leader of the opposition Progressive Federal Party, in organizing a conference that it called little more than a propaganda exercise benefiting the ANC.

But Boraine and Nel both disputed the government description of the ANC and, although they themselves opposed the use of violence, said they accepted its armed struggle against apartheid as "a historical reality."

Skillful Debaters

"It's a misconception and false generalization that the ANC are a bunch of cutthroat terrorists running around in the bush," Nel said. "As a group, the ANC participants' qualifications, their capacity for debate and capacity for getting involved in constructive discussion was of the highest, greater than any of us ever experienced in a sociological, political or economic debate--quite extraordinary. From our point of view, we were not dealing with a bunch of terrorists."

Boraine and Nel both said the 50-member group had been impressed by the ANC's stated desire for a negotiated resolution of the South African crisis, by its pledges to participate in a multiparty democracy with extensive guarantees of civil liberties, by its vision of a mixed rather than fully socialist economy and by what they described as the moderation, pragmatism and sincerity of the 20 ANC representatives they had met.

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