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'Struggle Is Not Over,' Mandela Declares : South Africa: He says the ANC is committed to talks but ready to maintain pressure.

July 03, 1991|SCOTT KRAFT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DURBAN, South Africa — Nelson Mandela opened a historic policy-making conference of the African National Congress on Tuesday by declaring the organization committed to speedy negotiations but, at the same time, fully prepared to maintain pressure on Pretoria.

"The point which must be clearly understood is that the struggle is not over," Mandela told the 2,000 delegates and 500 foreign and local observers. "Despite our own heroic efforts, we have not defeated the regime."

He added that even though the ANC must pressure President Frederik W. de Klerk to address important matters, such as the release of remaining political prisoners and alleged government involvement in township violence, the ANC should not delay the move toward constitutional negotiations.

"It can never be in our interest that we prolong the agony of the apartheid system. It does not serve the interests of the masses we represent and the country as a whole," Mandela said.

"The sooner power transfers into the hands of the people the better," he added.

The address launched a crucial five-day national conference at the University of Durban, the first such gathering for the ANC in South Africa since 1958.

The ANC today has the broadest support among South Africa's 28 million blacks, who outnumber whites 5 to 1, and is likely to play an important role in any new government. An independent opinion poll released Tuesday indicated that 68% of urban blacks say they would support the ANC in a national election.

One of the more important tasks facing the ANC delegates during closed-door sessions this week is to elect a new slate of leaders.

Mandela, currently the deputy president, is considered a shoo-in for president, a post being vacated by the ailing Oliver Tambo. But the key elections will be for deputy president and secretary general, the No. 2 and 3 positions in the ANC. The current secretary general, Alfred Nzo, is likely to be ousted because he is unpopular among the rank and file.

The conference brings together for the first time three distinct elements of the ANC--former exiles, former political prisoners and the young, militant group of leaders who guided the liberation struggle on the ground during the 1980s.

To accommodate these factions, the ANC has expanded the size of its national executive committee, the primary policy-making body, from 37 members to 90.

Nevertheless, ANC sources predict that as many as half of the current executives may lose their jobs by Saturday, when the voting results are announced. All but two members of the current national executive are former exiles, and few of the exiles are well known inside South Africa.

Among other important matters to be discussed during the conference here is a new constitution for the 79-year-old organization, which was legalized in 1990 after 30 years in exile. Delegates will also debate new strategies to force the government to end black township violence and to strengthen the ANC's hand during coming negotiations with the government.

During Mandela's 90-minute speech, delivered in a hall festooned with colorful banners and liberation slogans, the ANC leader said the coming months are "likely to prove one of the most difficult, complex and challenging (periods) in the entire life of our organization."

He urged the ANC, which now has 500,000 members, to step up its membership drive. And he said the ANC "can ill afford to be content with the relatively low level of success" in attracting whites, Indians and mixed-race Coloreds to its ranks.

He challenged the delegates to map a negotiation strategy, beginning with an "all-party congress" of major organizations in South Africa. He also said the ANC "must begin to arrive at firm conclusions about what we would do with the country once we become the governing party."

Both the government and the ANC agree that an all-party congress is a necessary first step. The two sides disagree, though, on what should follow. The ANC wants an interim government while the constitution is being negotiated. It also has demanded that the constitution be drawn up by a constituent assembly elected in a nationwide vote.

De Klerk opposes an interim government but has said he might allow blacks to become part of the present government. Blacks currently have no vote in South Africa. De Klerk also is opposed to a constituent assembly, arguing that the country's black and white leaders can together write a new constitution that would be acceptable to most South Africans.

Mandela said the ANC cannot rely solely on negotiations to get what it wants, and he called for protest marches and other actions to make its demands known.

The ANC leader also sharply criticized the government's inability to stop the raging black violence, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives in the last year.

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