The African National Congress, the main underground movement fighting to end minority white rule in South Africa, is attempting in a shift of strategy to form an alliance with white “forces for change” that would compel the government to end apartheid and enter negotiations on a new political order.
Oliver Tambo, the congress’ president, said in an interview here that the organization is actively seeking allies through “a broad cross-section of South Africans, regardless of their racial origins,” to cooperate in confronting the government of President Pieter W. Botha and forcing an end to apartheid.
He said the congress believes that such pressure could prove decisive in forcing the ruling National Party to abandon its step-by-step reforms, which blacks dismiss as tokenism, and to accept fundamental political changes including majority rule.
“The aim is to bring everyone to that point where all realize that the country can go no further with apartheid without the total destruction of everything,” Tambo said. “We are trying both to hasten this process and at the same time to minimize the violence, the death, the destruction, of which there is already far too much.”
But the African National Congress is not ending the guerrilla campaign it has waged for 25 years--that is being stepped up--nor is it calling for a halt to the widespread black protests that have kept South Africa in turmoil for nearly two years, Tambo said.
All are elements, along with international pressure, in a broadened strategy aimed at forcing whites, in and out of the National Party, into negotiations on what Tambo called “the transition to a new political system, one that is non-racial, democratic and just, and based on a united South Africa.”
“Once the Pretoria government accepts there must be this transition and dismantles apartheid,” Tambo said, “then we can discuss the modalities of the transition, the ways and the means, the timing.”
In political terms, this strategy seeks to enlarge what Tambo calls the “centrality” of the role of the African National Congress in resolving South Africa’s problems.
“There can be no solution of the country’s problems without the ANC,” he said. “As the crisis in the country grows, more and more whites realize this, as does the international community. The basic reason is very plain--that people accept the leadership of the ANC entrusted to articulate their demands.”
Talks With Germans
Tambo, 68, a former Johannesburg lawyer, spoke at length of the congress’ plans and strategies while on a visit to Bonn, where he was the guest of Willy Brandt, former West German chancellor and a leader of its Social Democratic Party.
The visit, which included a meeting with Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister, shows the growing international acceptance of the African National Congress, Tambo said. He noted that in the last year, he has also visited Britain and the United States in his effort to win support for the organization.
“We have always hoped that the outside world, along with fair-minded white South Africans, would make it unnecessary for us to raise this conflict to the highly destructive, massively destructive level that would be required to end apartheid through armed struggle,” he said.
“That is why we appeal to the West to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, to match the internal pressure with external pressure, and it is the reason we are trying now to reach the white population of the country and form a united front with the forces for change in it.”
The multi-dimensional strategy Tambo outlined is far more complex than the congress’ efforts over the last two decades to pursue a low-level insurgency while building support among South Africa’s 25 million blacks.
Won’t Renounce Violence
The goal, he stressed repeatedly, is to bring “the country to the point where apartheid cannot be continued” and then begin negotiations on a new political system. At the same time, an opposition is to be built up, capable in time of ousting the present regime if it will not end apartheid.
Tambo rejected, as the ANC has done before, Botha’s offer to talk with the organization as soon as it renounces violence.
“This condition is truly laughable,” Tambo said, “for it is the violence of apartheid that gave rise to our violence, our very limited violence. The violence of apartheid persists, as you can see every day in South Africa, and it is totally unreasonable for Botha to say that he will talk only if we end our violence while he continues his.
“We are prepared, however, to renounce violence if this is a reciprocal action. But violence is inherent in the apartheid system, and they would have to abandon apartheid, to dismantle it entirely. Then there would be no further violence against our people, and we would have no cause to continue our armed struggle.”
The African National Congress, he said, is willing to begin talks “without a cease-fire, while hostilities continue,” when the government seems ready for earnest discussions.
Conditions for Negotiations
But for broad negotiations on the country’s future, the congress has its own conditions, including the release of its imprisoned leader, Nelson Mandela, and others serving life sentences with him; the return of political exiles; the lifting of the ban on the congress and other anti-apartheid organizations, and an end to restrictions on political activities.
“Negotiations for the sake of negotiations would not at all be helpful, and we are not interested in them,” Tambo said. “To sit and talk to people who have no intention of doing anything, of changing anything, we can call negotiations, but it would be quite unhelpful for solving the problems before us.”
As conceived by the African National Congress, the “grand alliance,” as its rapidly growing contacts with groups of white South Africans have been called, is meant to step up pressure on the government to abandon the apartheid system of racial separation and minority white rule and agree to broad-based discussions on a new constitution for the country.
“This is not yet a structured united front, one with a table of organization and a president,” Tambo said, “And that will take some time in coming, though it is developing. We have, in the meanwhile, common activity by people moving in the same direction, seeking the same objective and increasingly coordinating their moves with one another.”
Talks With Many Groups
Since an unprecedented meeting with South African business executives in Zambia last October, congress officials have talked with more than 20 groups of clergymen, union leaders, white students and academics as well as with South Africa’s liberal white opposition Progressive Federal Party.
Now, even the Broederbond, the secret society of Dutch-descended Afrikaners who brought the National Party to power and retain strong influence within the government, is reported to want to meet with the ANC leader.
“All these discussions have been an important breakthrough for us,” Tambo said, “because the government for so long has misled people about the African National Congress and what it wants for the country. These groups meet with us, see where we stand, where we agree and disagree with them, and then they return and inform others. No, we are not going to negotiate on the government’s terms, but, yes, we have opened the dialogue with our white compatriots. And that is what we are convinced can bring us peace. . . .
“When they come, whites all ask us, ‘Can we avoid civil war, the destruction of the country? Is there an alternative?’ Yes, we say, and it is the end of apartheid and the establishment of a non-racial, democratic, just society in a united South Africa. We explain that we are for majority rule, but that is the majority of all of the people in the country, white as well as black. This is what the African National Congress has been fighting for all these years, and it is not really a change on our part to seek allies who agree with this objective.”
‘A Lot of Common Ground’
Many differences have emerged in the talks--on economic policy with the businessmen, on tactics with the trade unions, over black-versus-black violence with church leaders--but Tambo asserted that “we have found a lot of common ground on what we want South Africa to become and how we should get there.”
“We are consolidating a broad front of opinion that takes common positions on what is to be done to achieve the agreed goal of a non-racial democratic and just South Africa,” he said, “and in that process we are really bringing together the future South Africa as we see it.”
Tambo said he could set no timetable for this process--"things are moving faster than we expected and accelerating all the time"--nor foresee a clear scenario for resolving the country’s problems.
“We are not the only player,” he said. “We believe the initiative has shifted to us, and that is very important, but Pretoria can help or obstruct progress as it wants.”