THE African National Congress, heeding rank-and-file pressure, has launched a propaganda offensive with a successful round of protest marches aimed at shifting the government's stance in interracial negotiations. ``The marches signal the beginning of a process which could culminate in further concessions,'' said political analyst Khehla Shubane of the Independent Center for Policy Studies. ``The focus for the ANC now is to achieve as much control of the negotiation process as the government has already achieved.''
The marches appear to be part of a broader ANC strategy to pressure Pretoria to accept an interim government that would rule while a new constitution was being formulated by an elected constituent assembly. Pretoria rejects the idea of both concepts, but is prepared to discuss ``transitional mechanisms.''
Some ANC officials have argued that a combination of public protest, labor strikes, and unrest could threaten the economy, thus forcing further concessions.
New sanctions plan
The ANC also appears to be shifting its strategy on economic sanctions. An ANC discussion paper released last week suggests that the ANC should appeal to the international community to delay the lifting of sanctions for two to three months to help escalate pressure.
The ANC could thereby exert maximum pressure on President Frederik de Klerk ahead of his speech to the opening of parliament at the end of January.
Mr. De Klerk is expected to spell out the segregation and the reservation of prime land for whites and set a timetable for phasing out race classification.
Once De Klerk has removed the remaining obstacles to negotiations, the ANC could bolster its position by declaring that it sees the process of change as irreversible and approving the lifting of international trade sanctions.
Pretoria granted permission for the marches Thursday, although it had earlier warned that protest marches were contrary to the spirit of the ANC's Aug. 6 suspension of ``the armed struggle and related matters.''
ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela, adopting a tougher tone, warned that if the government did not grant permission for the marches, they would go ahead anyway and he called for an escalation of ``mass action.'' His call was made at the funeral of an activist shot by police in a protest march two weeks ago.
``I think the government wanted to avoid a major confrontation,'' says Mr. Shubane. ``With Mandela giving his personal blessing, they had little option.'' The marches, the first organized by ANC leaders inside the country, drew more than 30,000 people in Johannesburg and Pretoria, where Communist Party Chief Joe Slovo and Winnie Mandela, the ANC leader's controversial wife, led the procession.
In downtown Johannesburg, white office workers leaned from overhead windows and balconies watching columns of ANC supporters, 40 abreast, marching to the orders of ANC marshals.
New ANC demands
A four-page memorandum, detailing ANC demands, was presented at police headquarters in Johannesburg, and at the Union Buildings, seat of administrative government in Pretoria.
The memorandum demanded that the government speed up the release of political prisoners, approve the indemnity of ANC exiles, suspend political trials, scrap security laws, and end police harassment.
The document warned that whatever trust De Klerk enjoyed had been lost in the last few months and that ANC members were beginning to doubt the value of negotiations.
``Your motives are becoming suspect and our people are questioning your sincerity,'' the ANC statement told De Klerk.
``There is a growing and very palpable frustration within the ANC over the way the violence has been handled,'' says Shubane. Township violence claimed another 80 lives last week. ``Unless something drastic is done to end the violence, the ANC could face irresistible pressure to disengage from dialogue,'' he says.
Hardening ANC attitudes were reflected by the warm reception protesters gave ``Mac'' Maharaj, the leader of the ANC underground who was recently freed on bail after four months of detention. ``We want a solution - not just behind closed doors - but where the people have a say,'' said Mr. Maharaj, who is facing terrorism charges for allegedly planning an insurrection should the negotiations fail.