JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The African National Congress is facing a crucial decision on whether to abandon its armed struggle against minority white rule and accept the government's invitation to join in negotiations on a new political system, Pretoria's principal negotiator told Parliament on Wednesday.
The official, Stoffel van der Merwe, who is deputy minister of constitutional development and information, said that because of the government's commitment to continued reform and to ensuring blacks a full role eventually in the country's decision-making, the ANC can no longer justify its insurgency, not even as a bargaining chip.
Van der Merwe was forceful in his condemnation of the African National Congress' 25-year guerrilla campaign against minority white rule, but his principal message seemed to be that "anyone who abides by the rules of democracy is free to participate in the process of determining the future of South Africa."
Urges Peaceful ANC Role
"We are adamant that in South Africa a real democracy must be created," he told Parliament. "A democracy, of which the essence is a peaceful negotiated settlement of political disputes, cannot be created by the use of violence. . . . A system created by violence has to live by violence, and that is the exact opposite of what is envisaged by the notion of democracy."
Van der Merwe urged the ANC, outlawed in 1960 and led largely from exile since then, to "accept the peaceful rules of a democratic contest and come home and assist other peaceful South Africans to build a democratic society for all our peoples."
His speech, circulated in full by the government's Bureau for Information as a major policy declaration, appeared to take Pretoria's recent overtures to the African National Congress several steps further.
While denouncing the ANC's armed struggle as "totally unjustifiable, totally inexcusable and totally illegitimate," he put aside the politically important but highly contentious issue of whether it was justified when it was begun in late 1961. This, he said, "can be left to the historians to decide."
'No Valid Reason' for Violence
With Nelson Mandela and other veteran rebel leaders serving life prison sentences for their roles in planning the ANC's first sabotage campaign, his statement appeared to lay more political groundwork for their release. President Pieter W. Botha last month effectively dropped a requirement that they forswear violence as a condition for release, and the oldest prisoner, Govan Mbeki, 77, could be released soon on humanitarian grounds.
"The original grounds advanced by the ANC for their decision to opt for violence, whether or not they were valid at the time, are most definitely not valid today," Van der Merwe said. "No other reason advanced by them for the continuation of violence can bear the scrutiny of logic. There is no valid reason for the ANC to continue with its policy of violence."
Van der Merwe also distinguished between the African National Congress and its use of violence, accepting the legitimacy of the organization and the aspirations it represents while condemning its armed struggle. In devoting his whole speech on the state of constitutional developments to the ANC, he seemed to be confirming the group's claims to "centrality" in any resolution of the country's prolonged political crisis.
But he also warned the ANC--which has expressed a wary interest in negotiations, though on different terms than suggested by the government--that "if they want war, we can also make war."