The next step in ending apartheid in South Africa is wide-ranging contacts between the exiled African National Congress, the United States government, and the white minority that holds sway in Pretoria, according to an ANC official. The ANC, which seeks the overthrow of South Africa's government, is willing to hold discussions with the Reagan administration on ending apartheid without further violence or suffering for South Africans, says Neo Mnumzana, the ANC's chief representative at the United Nations.
The issue of ending South Africa's travail transcends other, albeit important, questions such as economic sanctions against the country. South Africans, he says, are willing to put up with the hardships caused by sanctions if that speeds the end of apartheid, the country's system of racial discrimination.
In an interview, he acknowledged that the ANC does accept support from the Soviet Union and the East bloc. But that does not mean the ANC is dominated by the Soviets. Moreover, he adds, the Reagan administration's fear that a black majority-ruled South Africa will strike an alliance with the Soviet Union could become a ``self-fulfilling prophecy'' if the US appears to be half-hearted in its resolve to end apartheid.
``If one section of the world doesn't want to give us support,'' Mr. Mnumzana says, ``this doesn't mean we cease to need that support. What it does mean is that we will accept support from those who give it to us on the basis of mutual respect. The sources of our support certainly do not define our identity, nor do they shape our aspirations.''
Mnumzana, a tall, bearded man who speaks in short, firm strokes, left South Africa in the 1960s and was educated in Liberia and the US. He has lived in various African countries and France, and has been the chief representative of the ANC at the UN since 1984.
Throughout much of that period, he was at pains to project the ANC's unqualified rejection of apartheid while at the same time avoiding the notion that it is a communist-dominated front. His comments are laced with appeals to Western democratic values, and during the course of an interview he quoted from St. Augustine and noted that no less than three past leaders of the ANC were educated in the West.
Sometimes, he turns back pointed questions with gentle humor. When a questioner pointed out that ANC general secretary Alfred Nzo delivered, in person, a warm greeting at last February's Soviet Communist Party Congress in Moscow, he replied, ``If one day the Republican Party decided to invite the ANC to its convention, we would go.''
That, in a sense, encapsulates his chief argument, that no one, especially not the South African government, has really asked the ANC to take a hand in ending unrest and installing a representative government. Unless that happens, he says, further violence is inevitable.
``The misery in South Africa has become so absolute . . . that the situation is screaming for resolution. If left to the South African people and the apartheid government alone, and that would be regrettable, there will be a fight to the finish, such as this world has probably never known.''
Comprehensive sanctions against South Africa would, he says, ``help disarm apartheid and weaken its ability to go on imposing its rule.''
His sentence construction -- implying that the enemy is an ideology, and not a particular ethnic group promulgating it -- is deliberate. The war in South Africa, he says, is a war between ideologies, minority rule on the one hand, and democracy on the other. He says it's puzzling that American politicians have any doubts as to where their sympathies should be, or question whether there should be official contact with the ANC.
``We recognize the might of the US, and how it can be harnessed, if the will is there, into a force for positive change in South Africa. And it's only natural that the ANC should strive toward making that might available in a positive way. That, alone, is worth any amount of talks or discussion with the US government.''
But, more important, South Africa's rulers should begin discussions with the ANC on transferring power to the black majority. Simply releasing Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned leader of the ANC, is not adequate, he says.