White and black opponents of apartheid formed a new political alliance Saturday that will attempt to force the government to call a constitutional convention to map out South Africa’s future and end minority white rule.
Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, leader of the Progressive Federal Party, a liberal white organization, said that the new alliance hopes to “seize the middle ground of reform and negotiation,” attracting broad support from both blacks and whites for a new political system to be worked out in a national convention.
“South Africa today is increasingly caught up in the process of repression and revolt, and in the escalating violence the idea of reform is being lost. . . ,” Slabbert said. “This is a genuine attempt to show that the politics of negotiation can work in the middle ground.”
Although the alliance has yet to adopt a strategy and organize formally, its plan is to become a political third force between the government and black militants and to “create a groundswell for a national convention and bring pressure to bear on President P.W. Botha to call it,” the chairman of its provisional steering committee, Jules Browde, a prominent Johannesburg attorney and chairman of Lawyers for Human Rights, said after a day of discussions.
Convention Aims Listed
The aims of such a convention, he said, would be the “complete dismantling of apartheid,” South Africa’s formal system of racial discrimination, and the drafting of a constitution based on a common citizenship for all South Africans and the reincorporation of the nominally independent black tribal homelands into the country. Other elements of the constitution would be left to the convention to work out.
“It is absolutely vital at this time to bring about by nonviolent means and in the shortest possible time the complete dismantling of apartheid and the negotiation in a national convention of one constitution based on one citizenship in one country,” Browde said.
Besides the Progressive Federal Party, strong supporters of the movement are Inkatha, the 1.1-million-member political movement led by Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi; the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and a large number of prominent white businessmen, lawyers, academics and sportsmen increasingly frustrated by the government’s hesitant reforms.
Several liberal members of the ruling National Party were among the 200 people at Saturday’s meeting. But the United Democratic Front, the country’s largest coalition of anti-apartheid groups, did not take part, apparently wanting to see where the alliance stands on key issues and whether it develops into a rival. Most of the front’s top leaders, however, are either facing trial on charges of treason, terrorism or subversion, in detention or hiding from the police, and the organization has all but ceased to function on a national level.
Tutu Sends Message
A number of leading anti-apartheid activists, including Bishop Desmond Tutu, 1984 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Rev. C.F. Beyers Naude, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, also did not accept invitations to participate but did send messages to the meeting.
The African National Congress, which for years backed the idea of a national convention as a way to end apartheid and work out a new political system for South Africa, now rejects that approach as no longer relevant and insists that the only issue to discuss is the handing over of power to it.
“I can understand why they don’t support it,” Slabbert said of the African National Congress, “but there is no reason why we in the country cannot bring about the right circumstances . . . for the convention to take place and, I hope, with their active participation.”