S. African Showdown Looms As Union Talks Collapse And Experts Blast Police

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

PRESIDENT Frederik de Klerk is under renewed pressure to rein in his security forces after the first detailed foreign indictment of police conduct and the collapse of an initiative by trade unions and business leaders to tone down a planned general strike.

Leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) and trade union leaders vowed yesterday that a three-day work strike, followed by four days of national protests, would go ahead Aug. 3 unless Mr. De Klerk took "practical steps" to end violence in the townships.

Some anti-apartheid leaders fear that the planned week of protests could aggravate the atmosphere of near-anarchy in some black townships and backfire on the ANC and its allies.

Recommended: Key Mandela moments: A biographical timeline

But militant anti-apartheid leaders believe that only a costly showdown will shift the government from what they see as its present intransigence.

"We know some of our people are going to be arrested and some are going to be killed, but we will do everything on our part to see that the protest is peaceful," said South African Communist Party (SACP) General Secretary Chris Hani at a news conference.

ANC leaders have rejected the announcement by De Klerk, on the eve of a United Nations Security Council debate last week, that included the disbanding of three controversial special-force units and other steps to end the violence.

"The danger of further violence must be laid at the door of those who resist change," said ANC Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday, referring to the government and its supporters in the private sector. "They must be warned that the ANC and its alliance partners will not stand by."

The ANC's campaign of symbolic protest, which is aimed at forcing De Klerk to accept the principle of majority rule rather than "powersharing," which he advocates, has led to hundreds of arrests in recent weeks as demonstrators have staged sit-ins in official buildings.

De Klerk extended a special Cabinet meeting yesterday after he and top officials spent Wednesday in talks with former United States Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, the special UN envoy visiting the country in accordance with a Security Council resolution passed last week. UN resolution

The resolution, adopted after a two-day emergency debate on South Africa, asked UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to send a special representative to South Africa to hold talks with all parties and propose ways to end the violence and restart talks.

"It looks as though a showdown is now inevitable," says a Western diplomat. "But the worrying part is that the Pretoria government seems prepared to ride out the protests and use the confrontation to disarm the ANC and its allies."

The diplomat says that government officials had returned from last week's UN Security Council debate with a mixture of confidence and relief. "They got a much warmer reception that they had expected," the diplomat says. "The reality is that Pretoria believes it can defeat the ANC on both ... pillars of its strategy to force De Klerk to accede to majority rule: mass protest and international intervention."

British experts who served on the state-appointed Goldstone Commission of Inquiry into violence have sharply criticized the police handling of the Boipatong massacre of at least 42 black South Africans June 17. The massacre caused an international uproar and led ANC President Nelson Mandela to call off political negotiations.

The British experts - a criminologist and two police officers - found in their report, which was released yesterday, that the South African police response had been both "woefully inadequate and seriously incompetent." The report blames the massacre on failure of the leadership within the police and the general lack of effective intelligence, forward planning, and weak procedural and organizational structures.

But the report, which was commissioned by the Goldstone Commission as part of a broader probe into the massacres, rejected widespread accusations of police complicity in the massacres. Failed compromise

Meanwhile, the failure of employers and trade unions to reach agreement over a draft declaration for a return to negotiations came as a surprise to some liberal businessmen who responded to a compromise initiative by militant trade union leaders in a bid to limit widespread damage to the economy and to labor relations.

"We also lost a golden opportunity to reach a much-needed social accord to act as a framework for a political settlement," says a businessman close to the talks.

It seemed that militants within the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), and the SACP triumphed over moderates ready to compromise with business to build a broader antigovernment coalition.

An agreement, which was predicted by business leaders and Western diplomats, would have paved the way back to negotiations and traded the three-day general strike for a one-day voluntary business shutdown Aug. 3.

Business leaders of the South Africa Employers' Consultative Committee on Labour (Saccola) said the deal failed because the organization could not convince all its constituents to back a total one-day shutdown of the private and public sectors. "The deal did not fail as a result of insurmountable differences on the principles," said a Saccola statement.

But Cosatu General Secretary Jay Naidoo said the business community had thrown away "a historic opportunity" and that, by failing to endorse the charter, it had disappointed South Africans determined to resolve the crisis.

"We deeply regret the inability of employer organizations to transcend longstanding prejudice and to cross the democratic threshhold," said a statement by the ANC/Cosatu/SACP alliance.

Mr. Naidoo said Cosatu had adopted the draft charter and negotiations with business could resume after the general strike.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...