THE sudden collapse of Marxism-Leninism in Eastern Europe is reducing international support for the outlawed African National Congress (ANC) and stepping up pressure for a negotiated political settlement in South Africa. ``Financial support for the ANC from Eastern Europe will all but dry up,'' says a senior Western diplomat here. ``The Soviets alone will continue to support the ANC, but they will follow increasingly their own political agenda.''
The swiftness of the changes in Eastern Europe has left socialist-oriented organizations like the ANC and its communist alliance partner - the South African Communist Party (SACP) - in a state of ``future shock.''
``We can no longer relax and take things for granted in Eastern Europe,'' says Steve Tshwete, ANC national executive member.
International pressure on the ANC was augmented this week when a close ally, the South-West Africa People's Organization, dropped all references to Marxism, advocating multiparty democracy and a market economy geared to attract foreign investors.
While recent ANC-SACP policy documents have reflected a more pragmatic line, the alliance is reeling from the fall of Eastern European communist parties.
The Soviet Union - a long-standing military backer of the ANC-SACP - has stressed that it will not abandon the organization in its struggle against apartheid.
Oleg Miroshkhin, the Soviet ambassador to Zambia, said Tuesday that ``the Soviet Union always supported and continues to support the just struggle of the South African people under the leadership of the ANC against the apartheid regime.''
In reply, ANC veteran Govan Mbeki referred to the recent upheavals in Eastern Europe: ``We know you have had problems in the Soviet Union and particularly in the peoples' democracies in Eastern Europe, but we hope and feel confident that you will be able to ride the wave and show the peoples of the world that socialism is far better than capitalism.''
But Soviet officials and academics have made clear their preference for a negotiated settlement in the region and no longer advocate socialism in South Africa.
But South African Communist Party chief Joe Slovo says that the perspectives of the ANC-SACP had not been fundamentally affected by events in Eastern Europe. ``Looking at South Africa, what has failed is capitalism and not socialism,'' he said. ``But we must shed the excess baggage we have carried as communists and we must learn from the mistakes of Eastern Europe.''
Confusion in anti-apartheid ranks has been exacerbated by the recent visit to Hungary by South African Foreign Minister Roelof Botha - only 10 days after Thabo Mbeki, the influential head of the ANC's international department, had visited Budapest.
According to ANC officials, Mr. Mbeki was told nothing of the budding relationship with Pretoria.
``The ANC will have to throw out its old political ideas,'' crowed Mr. Botha who addressed a reception on his return to South Africa Jan. 5, wearing a ``perestroika-glasnost'' badge.
The ANC, clearly rattled by the new relationship, publicly condemned the Hungarians. ``It was really a surprise to us that one of the first steps of the new government in Hungary was to embrace racist South Africa,'' said Mr. Slovo. In sharp contrast, Soviet commentators welcomed the meeting.
``Mr. Botha's visit will certainly influence the developing dialogue between the Pretoria government and the rest of the world and with the country's black majority,'' said Soviet political writer Boris Gan last week.
A flourishing two-way trade relationship between the two countries could undermine economic sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe. South Africa has no formal trade ties with Eastern Europe, but extensive indirect trade exists.
Mounting Soviet pressure for a negotiated settlement in South Africa has already led to open conflict between senior Soviet officials and the SACP - whose close ties with Moscow have ensured ANC the Kremlin's support.
But Slovo still sees a future for socialism in South Africa. ``We believe that in a truly democratic South Africa we will be able to move toward socialism by debate and conviction and by winning the support of the majority of the people,'' he said. Slovo said that while the SACP now believed in multiparty democracy, it was bound to be affected by the growing offensive against socialism. ``It would be naive to conclude that the reverses from which socialism has suffered would not affect all socialist and communist parties,'' he said.
Inside the country the Mass Democratic Movement - the ANC-aligned anti-apartheid movement, which draws its strength from the powerful and avowedly socialist black trade union movement - has begun a tentative reappraisal of its economic strategy.
A Financial Mail editorial says: ``Far from being on the brink of taking over South Africa, the ANC may well, in the period ahead, be facing the most crucial test in its long history - ironically on the eve of the release of Nelson Mandela.''