S. Africa Rebels Vow to Honor Ethnic Rights
The African National Congress, seeking white support in its fight against apartheid in South Africa, pledged Saturday to include constitutional guarantees of individual civil rights and a protection of the cultural heritage of ethnic groups in any new, post-apartheid political system.
But Pallo Jordan, a member of the ANC’s national executive committee, also told a delegation of prominent white South Africans that the ANC, whose goal is majority rule, would never agree to continued political privileges for the country’s white minority.
“We have never questioned the right of whites to live in South Africa, and in fact we welcome them,” Jordan said. “But we are not willing to make concessions to the desire for special rights or for privileges or to racist prejudices.”
As South Africans debate the country’s future, the issue of minority rights has become increasingly important, and on Saturday it was the focus of the third day of discussions here between a group of 50 liberal white politicians, businessmen, academics, clergy, writers, journalists and students and 20 senior members of the outlawed African National Congress.
Reassured by Pledges
Alex Boraine, co-director of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa, which organized the conference, said that the whites, most of whom come from the Afrikaner community that has dominated the Pretoria government for four decades, were reassured by the ANC’s pledges.
ANC officials said they hope that the delegation, the biggest group of white South Africans that the organization has met, would take its pledges back to South Africa and that they would form the basis of a further dialogue with whites on the future of the country.
But the ANC’s declarations are unlikely to impress the government of President Pieter W. Botha, who insists that political reforms must be based on racial groups to safeguard minority rights from what he has called “the tyranny of the majority.”
Many whites, including some opponents of apartheid, contend that without the right to veto majority decisions they will be “swamped” by blacks, who outnumber whites 5 to 1. Blacks, while trying to ease white fears, largely reject any system not based on one person, one vote.
Boraine said that conference participants tried to distinguish between rights that should be protected and privileges that must be abolished in a post-apartheid political system to prevent the country from being torn apart by polarizing forces, including those based on race or ethnicity.
Jordan said the ANC was committed to a multi-party democracy, that it agreed on the need for a constitutional bill of rights to protect the individual and believed that all ethnic groups should be assured of the right to speak their own language and retain their own culture.
The question of cultural rights is particularly sensitive for the 2.9 million Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch, French and German settlers, who struggled for generations to assert their own national identity and who now fear its loss if they accept majority rule.
But Lawrence Schlemmer, a political scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a leading Afrikaner intellectual, said that he was “very, very surprised and heartened by the sensitivity and appreciation within the ANC for the richness of diversity” in South Africa.
The ANC delegation, however, rejected the proposal of a Natal provincial council for a regional multiracial government that attempted to ensure both minority rights while establishing the principle of one person, one vote for the first time in South Africa.
“We feel that apartheid cannot be reformed, but the (Natal proposal) feeds the illusion that apartheid is reformable,” Jordan said. “The project is seriously flawed . . . and increases, rather than reduces, ethnic tensions and freezes ethnic political identities.”
And Jordan sharply attacked the Inkatha political movement of Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, the Zulu leader, accusing it of killing anti-apartheid activists and black trade unionists and of aligning itself with the white-led minority government.
Jordan also rejected as “just another instance of tinkering with the instruments and mechanisms of apartheid” the Pretoria government’s Friday announcement of elections of black representatives to a proposed national council that would discuss a new constitution for South Africa.