Johannesburg — The South African government is relentlessly pushing to eliminate the guerrilla activities of the African National Congress, both at home and abroad. At home, South African President P. W. Botha ruled out on Wednesday the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela, who has been serving a life sentence for sabotage since 1964. Mr. Botha had previously offered to free Mr. Mandela on the condition that Mandela would ``unconditionally reject violence as a political instrument.'' Mandela rejected that condition in a message that his daughter delivered last Sunday, in which he observed that ``only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.''
In a similar move last week, South Africa issued its strongest warning yet to Botswana about an alleged increase in the number of ANC insurgents infiltrating through that country into South Africa.
And when Pretoria speaks about such matters, neighboring governments listen closely. South Africa has demonstrated in recent years that it will not hesitate to invade neighboring states -- as it did when it attacked the Mozambican capital, Maputo, in October 1983 -- in its battle against the ANC guerrilla movement, which is dedicated to overthrowing the Pretoria regime.
``In short,'' South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. Botha said in a message to the Botswana government, ``the situation cannot continue as at present.'' The ``situation'' is the alleged increase in ANC activity through Botswana.
South Africa has been trying for months to pressure Botswana into negotiating a security agreement of some sort. It has already obtained formal security pacts with Mozambique and Swaziland and has forced tiny Lesotho to expel certain refugees Pretoria regarded as security threats. But Botswana -- in spite of its heavy dependence on South African foreign investment and goods -- has consistently resisted this pressure.
President Quett Masire of Botswana, considered one of southern Africa's most moderate pro-Western leaders, says his government does not allow the ANC to operate in any military sense from Botswana. Western diplomats in Botswana's capital, Gaborone, believe Mr. Masire is firm in his commitment to this policy.
But South Africa appears convinced that while ANC insurgents may not be based in Botswana, they are filtering through the vast, sparsely populated country and sometimes returning to it after attacks in South Africa.
The South African government says ANC activity through Botswana has increased since last September. Since then, Pretoria claims, seven insurgents from Botswana have been arrested, three have been killed, two have escaped back to Botswana, and another two are still at large. These clashes with alleged ANC insurgents have occurred in the South African-created black ``homeland'' of Bophuthatswana.
Some analysts regard this alleged development as a byproduct of South Africa's security pacts with Mozambique and Swaziland, which may have closed off established infiltration routes from the east.
Foreign Minister Botha said peace in the region could not be maintained if ``terrorists'' were harbored in neighboring states -- ``be it with or without that state's knowledge or consent.''
His assertion answered Masire's recent charge that Botswana was worried about a possible invasion from South Africa.