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South Africa Legalizes ANC, Vows to Free Mandela Soon : S. AFRICA : Apartheid: President De Klerk makes a historic concession in the black majority's struggle for freedom. The move is hailed as greatly courageous.

February 04, 1990|From Associated Press

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — President Frederik W. de Klerk legalized the African National Congress on Friday and promised to free Nelson Mandela, a historic concession to the epic struggle for freedom by the nation's black majority.

Thousands of blacks filled the streets of several cities to celebrate the announcements by De Klerk in a speech that was widely hailed as courageous.

But black activists and several countries said that despite the move to legalize the ANC and dozens of other anti-apartheid groups, the white-run government must now follow through. De Klerk did not act dismantle the foundation of the apartheid system that would give South Africa's 28 million blacks a direct voice in running the country.

Activists, white businessmen, liberal politicians and foreign governments praised the courage of De Klerk, who scrapped many other restrictions on opposition activity in a bid to draw the ANC into negotiations on South Africa's future.

"It's incredible. What he said has certainly taken my breath away," said Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to apartheid. "We could say that we are probably seeing history in the making in South Africa."

President Bush called the move "quite positive" and said he will review U.S. sanctions on South Africa. An aide said De Klerk and Mandela will be invited to the White House when the black leader is released.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain described De Klerk's announcement as "a historic landmark," and lifted cultural and academic embargoes.

The exiled ANC said De Klerk's announcements "go a long way to creating the climate conducive to negotiations." But the Zambia-based organization, which has been fighting a guerrilla war almost 30 years, said more changes were needed before talks could begin.

If the two sides begin negotiations, quick breakthroughs appear unlikely.

The ANC and all leading anti-apartheid groups demand a one-person, one-vote democracy, which De Klerk opposes, saying it will result in the 28 million blacks dominating the 5 million whites.

De Klerk, since taking office in August, has said he envisions some type of system in which no single racial group would dominate.

Mandela, 71, the country's best-known black leader, would be freed shortly, De Klerk said. But he said "personal circumstances and safety" were among the factors delaying the release.

"I want to put it plainly that the government has decided to release Nelson Mandela unconditionally," he said. "Unfortunately, a further short passage of time is unavoidable."

Tutu agreed with De Klerk's assessment, saying, "There may be people, a lunatic fringe, who would want to subvert the process by liquidating him. I think that we have to accept that there are certain constraints."

De Klerk said he would lift bans on more than 30 outlawed groups and scrap restrictions on a similar number. He pledged to free most prisoners jailed for belonging to these groups, declared a moratorium on executions, and lifted most of the restrictions imposed during a 43-month-old state of emergency.

These were the principal steps demanded by Mandela and the ANC as conditions for negotiations on a new constitution that would end the black majority's exclusion from national politics.

"The season of violence is over. The time for reconstruction and reconciliation has arrived," De Klerk said in his speech, greeted with cheers from supporters and silence from the right-wing opposition.

De Klerk said his Cabinet unanimously agreed on the decision and the action on legalizing the groups requires no action from Parliament or any other branch of government.

Andries Treurnicht, leader of the pro-apartheid Conservative Party, challenged de Klerk to call an immediate election for white voters to see whether they backed his decisions.

"We say he has no mandate for doing the drastic things he intends doing," Treurnicht said.

At the perimeter of the parliamentary buildings, about 5,000 demonstrators, many chanting "ANC! ANC!" joined a march demanding Mandela's release.

In Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, the three largest cities, thousands of blacks sang and danced in the streets to celebrate the ANC's legalization.

Police said marchers threw stones at them in Johannesburg and ordered the crowd to disperse. They then fired tear gas. No arrests or serious injuries were reported.

The groups to be legalized, in addition to the ANC, include the smaller Pan-Africanist Congress guerrilla movement, the South African Communist Party and the United Democratic Front, a nationwide multiracial anti-apartheid coalition.

The United Democratic Front, which is aligned with the ANC, welcomed De Klerk's changes but called for sanctions to remain in place.

"To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process to democracy," it said in a statement.

De Klerk said he was lifting restrictions imposed on 374 activists after their release from detention.

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