JOHANNESBURG — THE biggest-ever rally of the outlawed African National Congress (ANC), attended by more than 70,000 ebullient anti-apartheid supporters here Sunday, has created a dilemma for the South African government. The rally, held to celebrate the release from prison of ANC veteran Walter Sisulu and six other colleagues, has highlighted the paradox of unconditionally releasing the ANC leaders while maintaining a 30-year-old ban on the ANC.
Government security officials, who asked not to be named, said this had created an untenable situation for the police who felt they were being asked not to enforce the law.
``If you have got laws and you can't enforce them then what is the point?'' one official asked. He said it was time the politicians gave the police clear guidelines and sorted out the growing confusion in their ranks.
Government ministers were closeted in a cabinet meeting Monday to discuss policy. A partial lifting of the 40-month-old nationwide emergency is thought to be high on the cabinet agenda.
A pro-government daily newspaper, The Citizen, called on the government either to enforce the law or change it to lift the 29-year-old ban on the ANC.
The government's dilemma was further deepened by a massive display of support for the outlawed South African Communist Party (SACP), which has maintained a 50-year alliance with the ANC.
A blunt message from SACP general secretary Joe Slovo said the ANC-SACP alliance was indestructible. He pointedly kept socialism on the political agenda.
``The abolition of apartheid will enable us to work for a socialist future,'' he said.
Ahmed Kathrada, a self-confessed SACP member who was released from jail with Mr. Sisulu two weeks ago, received a tumultuous welcome from the crowd and any mention of the party provoked cheering and chanting from the crowd.
The government's cautious freeing of political activity and debate has so far ignored the SACP, and it had clearly hoped that overt support for the organization would be muted.
But this was balanced with a sense of relief in government circles that the rally proceeded peacefully without police intervention and that the underlying tone of the ANC message was conciliatory and in favor of negotiations.
The most dramatic event of the rally was a long message from exiled ANC president Oliver Tambo in London, although the contents of the speech cannot be published in South Africa because Tambo is still a ``listed'' person in terms of security laws.
The intent of Tambo's remarks was to persuade radical anti-apartheid supporters inside the country to prepare themselves for negotiations should the government create the necessary climate for talks.
Tambo said the future course of the country lay in the hands of President Frederik de Klerk and his government.
``If F.W. de Klerk finally accepts the position of the ANC by opting for peace and justice he may yet earn a place among the peacemakers of this country,'' Tambo said in an unusually conciliatory gesture.
``But if he perpetuates the illusion that he can maintain apartheid by force he will disappear - with the criminal system he has sought to defend - into the mists of history.''
Sisulu, who delivered the keynote speech at the rally, emphasized the peaceful nature of the ANC and the organization's successive - but thwarted - attempts to negotiate with the country's white rulers.
``... We stood for peace in our long struggle of resistance, we stand for peace today, and we will stand for peace tomorrow,'' he said to cheers.
He said the ANC was ready to discuss the ``suspension of hostilities on both sides'' once the government had created the necessary climate for negotiations. These conditions include the lifting of the state of emergency, the legalization of the ANC, and an end to repressive laws and political trials and executions.
The government position is that the ANC and its leaders must commit themselves to a peaceful process of negotiation and abandon - or at least suspend - their 29-year-old ``armed struggle.''
But Sisulu said the armed struggle and a national Defiance Campaign against apartheid laws would continue and he called on the international community to intensify economic sanctions against South Africa.
``There can be no question of us unilaterally suspending the armed struggle,'' he said. ``To date, we have no clear indication that the government is serious about negotiations. All their utterances are vague.''