South African Talks Stall Over Township Violence
Critics say 'political brinkmanship' increases prospects for violence
POLITICAL brinkmanship by the three major political players in South Africa has increased the threat of intensified violence following three crucial developments over the weekend: *-The decision by the African National Congress to suspend constitutional negotiations with the government and boycott President Frederik de Klerk's May 24 conference on ending violence.
*-The refusal by Inkatha Freedom Party leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi to agree to a ban on the carrying of Zulu spears and sticks.
*-The refusal of Mr. De Klerk to accept an offer from church leaders to sponsor his conference on violence.
The ANC said Saturday that it was suspending constitutional negotiations until the government met its demands for ending the violence, but said that talks on violence - and joint working groups monitoring implementation of previous accords - would continue.
"It is high-risk brinkmanship," says a Western diplomat. "But having narrowed the gap with its militant rank and file, it would be naive to expect the ANC's moderate leadership to take off the pressure before it is reelected at its July conference."
Analysts say that the danger of brinkmanship in the current political climate is that it could lead to uncontrollable levels of violence.
Mervyn Frost, a Natal University political scientist, says both the government and the ANC were having to follow one agenda to retain their supporters and another to keep negotiations alive.
"The government wants the ANC to reach its July conference as weak as possible and sees the best way of doing that as letting the violence ride," says Mr. Frost. "The ANC wants to get to the conference looking as strong as possible, so it talks about defense units and acts belligerently. The dilemma both sides face is how to stabilize the interim period so you can reach the goal of political negotiations."
Frost says the only way to achieve this is through steps jointly agreed to - and therefore legitimized by - the government, the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The ANC announcement came 48 hours after a spate of bombings in downtown Johannesburg and the high-rise Hillbrow neighborhood. No one was killed in the attacks, but several people were injured in the first urban terrorism for nearly a year.
The ANC condemned the attacks and said that they must have been carried out by "those opposed to the negotiations process for a democratic South Africa." Hours before the first attacks, ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela issued the sternest warning since he was freed 15 months ago. He warned that violence would spill over to white neighborhoods unless urgent steps were taken to stop the violence.
"Tomorrow - if they [the government] do not stop the violence - it will take place in the white areas. They [township blacks] - when they realize that government is working with the black organization [Inkatha] that is killing our people - people are going to arm themselves and go to white areas and kill innocent people," Mandela said, adding that the ANC and other groups would not support such action.
The ANC announced a program of mass protest including nationwide consumer boycotts, a two-day work strike, and nationwide demonstrations on June 15, the eve of the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising. Wednesday is to be a day of fasting and prayer in solidarity with 150 fasting political prisoners.
The government condemned the ANC decision, but indicated it would consider attending any future peace conference convened by the churches. The ANC supports the church conference but says it will not attend any meeting convened by De Klerk because he is not a neutral party.
"By refusing to attend the conference on violence and intimidation, the ANC has acted in an unjustifiable and irresponsible way," said Constitutional Development Minister Gerrit Viljoen. But in an apparrent attempt at damage limitation if the conference fails, Mr. Viljoen said the conference was envisaged as the first in a possible series of such meetings.
Chief Buthelezi, leader of Inkatha, said Saturday his party would attend the talks.
The ecumenical South African Council of Churches is to meet in emergency session Tuesday, and its general-secretary, the Rev. Frank Chikane, was to meet Chief Buthelezi today in a bid to persuade him to agree to a ban on "traditional weapons which include sticks, spears, and ceremonial axes carried by pro-Inkatha Zulus at public meetings.
De Klerk apparently failed to convince Buthelezi at a Tuesday meeting and is reported to be meeting King Goodwill Zwelethini, the Zulu monarch, this week to try to break the logjam.
De Klerk and Mr. Mandela reached tentative agreement May 10 on steps to ensure impartial policing and to phase out men-only hostels in the black townships - a major flashpoint of violence - and replace them with family accommodations. But the talks foundered on the government's failure to outlaw Zulus "traditional weapons."
In a defiant speech Saturday Buthelezi accused the ANC of fomenting further instability by advocating mass protests, and urged the government to continue negotiations without them.