The African National Congress of South Africa (ANC) is calculating that a meeting between its president and American Secretary of State George Shultz will be a watershed event in the organization's 75-year history. At the time of writing, ANC President Oliver Tambo and Secretary Shultz were scheduled to meet at the State Department yesterday afternoon.
To ANC officials, the anticipated meeting was the capstone of a whirlwind tour of the United States by Tambo that focused unprecedented public attention on the organization's controversial campaign to end white minority rule in South Africa.
But the organization learned that higher visibility means increased scrutiny and greater controversy, centering on the ANC's use of violence and on communist influence within its ranks.
Some conservatives criticized Shultz for meeting with the leader of a ``terrorist'' organization. Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas said the Shultz-Tambo meeting ``comes perilously close to sending the wrong kind of message on terrorism -- the same kind of message that may have inadvertently been sent in our arms dealings with Iran.''
On the other hand, the Council of Presidents of National Arab-American Organizations praised Shultz for ``courage and vision,'' then called on him to arrange a similar meeting with Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The State Department said the Shultz-Tambo meeting is part of a US effort to talk with leaders of all persuasions in South Africa.
ANC officials were irritated that debate over the ANC's methods at times overshadowed discussion of its goals.
Tambo, at an address to the National Press Club, said, ``We have found concentrated attention on the methods of the ANC - what has been called the violence of the ANC, the terrorism of the ANC'' and about the influence of communists on the movement.
Both topics were, according to US diplomats, also on the agenda in the meeting with Shultz.
Tambo's explanations were a reiteration of earlier statements by the ANC leadership. Violence, he asserted, was adopted only after years of nonviolent struggle proved futile, and only in the face of repeated violence by government forces. He added that while the ANC dislikes violence, the group cannot renounce that tactic until ``apartheid is liquidated.''
Communists, he argued, were only one group among many disparate elements of the ANC and were by no means the guiding force.
``The Communist Party of South Africa acknowledges that the ANC is the head of the liberation movement,'' said Tambo, ``and it behaves that way.''
Tambo expressed the hope that greater understanding of these points in the US would lead to greater support for the ANC, which operates from a base in exile in Lusaka, Zambia.
``We would wish to remove the obstacles in the way of the United States coming over to our side,'' he said.
ANC officials saw the meeting with Shultz as a recognition by the US that the organization must be taken into account when negotiating over South Africa's future.
``Those who refuse to meet with the ANC are refusing to address the question of a solution'' to South Africa's problems, Tambo said. By meeting with him, Tambo said, Shultz was ``pointing the way out'' for those who refuse to reckon with the ANC and its influence.
One expert argued that the visit would be salutary if it underscored to Pretoria's white minority government the need to deal directly with the ANC. ``In the end,'' he said, ``that's what's going to have to happen.''