Liberals' talks with ANC only seem to harden Pretoria's stand. Botha may gain from black group's refusal to renounce violence

A milestone meeting between white-liberal South Africans and the outlawed African National Congress insurgent group has likely hardened the government's resolve to bar the ANC from talks on the country's future. The expectation among political analysts here is that the government will portray the ANC talks as a vindication of its own view that the ANC - the oldest and most powerful of the country's antiapartheid organizations - is a ``terror group.'' The pro-government newspaper Rapport yesterday suggested there may soon be an official move to curb the activities of the South African Institute for Democratic Alternatives that, with Western funding, set up the three days of ANC talks that ended Saturday in Dakar, Senegal.

White participants in the talks, writing in South African newspapers yesterday, portrayed the discussions as a success - in the sense that they allowed unprecedentedly frank, detailed discussion on whites' and blacks' views of a ``post-apartheid'' South Africa. ``No issues,'' wrote Frederik van zyl Slabbert, the former white-liberal parliamentarian who led the Dakar delegation, ``were fudged.''

But Mr. Slabbert and other participants noted that on at least one key point, disagreement emerged. This was the ANC's use of violence in its struggle to overturn the present, racially determined South African system. Pressed by some white delegates publicly to disavow violence in which civilians were killed, ANC delegates reportedly replied that they have always opposed ``indiscriminate'' violence. They also reportedly expressed misgivings over ``necklacing'' - in which gasoline-soaked tires are used to set suspected black collaborators on fire.

But they said it was not politically feasible for the group to condemn such violence publicly - or consider a ``cease-fire'' at a time when, the ANC says, the government has not demonstrated readiness to scrap race discrimination outright, and negotiate a new system.

A joint communiqu'e released yesterday, expressed unanimous ``preference for a negotiated solution.'' But it blamed the inherent ``violence'' in the present white-dominated system and ``the attitude of those in power'' for making such talks unworkable. It called on Pretoria to unban the ANC and release jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela as ``fundamental prerequisites for talks.''

The white envoys clearly hope the Dakar talks will encourage debate on, and ultimately with, the ANC by whites. ``A chasm still divides the two main political forces in South Africa, namely Afrikaner and African nationalism,'' wrote Hermann Giliomee, a prominent Afrikaner academic who went to Dakar, in a Sunday paper. ``Nevertheless, there has been surprising willingness on both sides to throw up bridges which will prevent a civil war.''

Yet his words came only months after South African whites handed a landslide reelection victory to President Pieter Botha's National Party, rejecting the white-liberal opposition as ``soft'' on the ANC.

The government has in recent days signaled it will drive ahead with efforts to bring ``nonviolent'' blacks into a system of ``power-sharing'' - but ruling out black ``domination.'' Officials are hinting at holding elections for black delegates to such negotiations. This seems a bid to undercut claims by the ANC to represent the great majority of blacks in demands for a simple ``one-man-one-vote,'' nonracial system. The government rejects this as a formula for a black takeover.

Still, few blacks have openly voiced support for the government's plan, raising the possibility that elections for a negotiating council might, like earlier voting for government-supported black local governments, be widely boycotted.

Journalists in South Africa operate under official press restrictions.

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