Archbishop Desmond Tutu appealed to the African National Congress on Sunday to end its armed fight against South Africa's white-led minority government and to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the country's deepening crisis.
But Tutu, returning from a weekend meeting with ANC leaders in Lusaka, Zambia, called upon the government in Pretoria to make the first move toward reconciliation by unconditionally freeing Nelson Mandela and South Africa's other political prisoners.
For Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Sunday's appeal was the start of a major peace initiative here. He is trying to open a dialogue between the government, which is beleaguered, fearful and searching for a political solution that will avoid a racial civil war, and the principal guerrilla group, representing the aspirations of the nation's voteless black majority and its growing willingness to use violence to achieve its goals.
The Pretoria government and the ANC "are holding pistols at each other's heads right now," Tutu said, describing his initiative as an effort to bring to reality a vision of peaceful reconciliation that he and other churchmen have and to break the political impasse.
Tutu said that if the ANC were given another route, such as negotiations with the government, to achieve its goal of a "nonracial, democratic and just" political system, he believes it would be willing to abandon violence, ending its guerrilla war and terrorist attacks.
Other major conditions would have to be met before full negotiations could begin, Tutu added, but these might be discussed in preliminary "talks about talks."
Those conditions include lifting the nine-month-old state of emergency, which gives the police and army virtual martial-law powers; ending effective military occupation of the country's black townships; releasing political prisoners and those detained without charge; allowing the free return of political exiles, and legalizing the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and other banned political groups.
However, the Anglican prelate drew little initial support. The ANC expressed serious reservations about his call for it to end its armed confrontation, and the South African government exhibited its own lack of interest.
While "welcoming the archbishop's initiative," ANC President Oliver Tambo told reporters in Lusaka as he saw Tutu off on Sunday, "we told him what we have said before--that we have found nothing new in the situation that would justify a departure from our . . . commitment to the armed struggle."
ANC, Pretoria Reluctance
"If suspending our armed struggle were aimed at allowing negotiations to proceed, there is no reason why negotiations (with the South African government) should not start without our necessarily declaring a cease-fire, least of all a unilateral cease-fire," he added.
Asked for comment, a government spokesman in Pretoria said the authorities have "no knowledge and, at this point, little interest" in the Tutu initiative.
"The government's position is clear, fair and well-known," he said, recalling recent statements by President Pieter W. Botha expressing the government's willingness to discuss a new political system for South Africa with those blacks who first renounce violence and who also agree to work out "power-sharing" arrangements based primarily on racial and ethnic groups.
Yet Tutu was not dismayed, declaring his readiness to press ahead with his initiative, using the moral authority of the church as well as his own influence at home and abroad to move the conflict toward peaceful reconciliation.
"Basically, I was asking them to review their own position (on guerrilla attacks), to consider the renunciation of violence in order to throw the ball back into the court of the South African government, which has said it will not negotiate with anyone who espouses violence," Tutu said of his talks with Tambo and other congress leaders.
He said that the point is to seize the government's condition as an opportunity, to challenge it to negotiate rather than fight.
Tutu said he understood from his talks with Tambo and other rebel leaders that, "without something dramatic having happened," such a move would be difficult for the ANC, which would have to justify any change in strategy to its own supporters inside the country and in exile.
Tradition of Nonviolence
"But it is important to understand the commitment to the armed struggle is not a matter of principle, written into the ANC constitution, but is a matter of strategy," he said. "The tradition of the ANC is nonviolent, and they say the armed struggle was forced onto them when they were banned 27 years ago."
Tutu said that Tambo, pressed on the question of violence, told him that "in any struggle, an army has to be constantly reviewing its position, even when on the march, evaluating whether to stop or even, as a tactic, to retreat if necessary."
The implication, Tutu said, was that of substantial ANC flexibility on a cease-fire if the political conditions were suitable.
Tutu, reiterating that he supports the ANC's goal of ending apartheid but not its methods, also said his initiative includes an effort to make clear to white South Africans what the ANC stands for.
"One of our great sadnesses is that people in South African are not given the opportunity of encountering the ANC leaders as they really are," he said, describing them as "very, very impressive" and criticizing the government's portrayal of them as "blood-thirsty vampires" and terrorists.
"It's no use pretending that the ANC won't be part of negotiations for a new constitution and that it is not already a very significant part of the South African scene," he said.
Tutu said he also discussed the equally controversial issue of the South African Communist Party's substantial role in the ANC and added that he shares Tambo's view that, if Communists contribute to ending apartheid, their help is welcome.
"I have no problems with this," he said.