Indian group bolsters S. African protest politics

There were no reported clashes this past weekend between the South African police and African National Congress guerrillas. But ANC planners must have felt they chalked up another ''victory'' in their campaign against white minority rule in the republic.

The ''victory'' was scored without violence in an Indian township near Johannesburg. About 1,000 government opponents - most of them ''nonwhites'' - met to launch anew the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC).

The event was yet another sign of a growing amount of open support here for the tradition and the basic goals of the ANC, if not for the banned organization itself.

The TIC was a partner with the ANC in the so-called Congress Alliance of the 1950s. That alliance was a significant development in protest politics in South Africa, bringing the black ANC into a multiracial alliance with opposition groups of other races, including a smattering of whites. The alliance adopted a freedom charter in 1955, calling for a nonracial democracy in South Africa that implied black majority rule.

The South African government banned the ANC in 1960, and sympathetic groups like the TIC faded from the political scene. The more racially exclusive black consciousness movement took root and was the primary force in black protest in the mid-1970s.

But in recent years, the basic goals outlined in the freedom charter have been gaining new popularity among student organizations, trade unions, and community groups. Analysts here say it bespeaks a broad and growing sympathy, particularly among blacks, for the ANC. (Few would openly support the ANC or its goals, as they are illegal.)

The TIC traces its roots to an organization founded just after the turn of the century by Mohandas K. Gandhi. Its sister organization, the Natal Indian Congress, was formed by Gandhi in 1894.

The new president of the TIC is Essop Jassat, a soft-spoken Indian medical doctor. Jassat says the TIC ''subscribes to the traditions of the freedom charter.''

He dissociates the group from any form of violence, but says in reference to the ANC's violent tactics that it must be recognized that violence is ''another form of struggle in this country.''

The spark that led to the reformation of the TIC is the government's plan to enfranchise Indians and Coloreds (persons of mixed-race descent) while continuing to exclude blacks.

''We see these reforms as just the old apartheid fitted out in new clothing, '' says Jassat. ''It's still a divisionist policy.''

The TIC will work to demonstrate that the bulk of the Indian community does not support the Nationalist government's so-called reforms.

Jassat appears well positioned to accomplish that, given his track record. He was chairman of a group that boycotted elections to the government-created South African Indian Council in 1981. Opponents of the SAIC scored a smashing success, limiting the poll of Indians to less than 15 percent of the registered voters.

Indeed, Jassat says it was the success of the anti-SAIC campaign that led Indian leaders to believe it was time to reestablish the TIC.

Although the TIC is primarily an Indian group, it rejects ''ethnicity'' and will be open to members of all race groups. Still, the main black consciousness organization, the Azanian People's Organization, has criticized the TIC for its ethnic flavor.

The TIC elected a black trade unionist as one of its vice-presidents at its May 1 launching. Expressing support for the TIC at its opening meeting were two African trade unions, the Soweto Civic Association, and the Soweto Committee of 10, whose chairman, Dr. Nthato Motlana, addressed the TIC.

TIC's new constitution says it will strive nonviolently for a ''united, democratic, nonracial South Africa on the basis of universal adult suffrage.''

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