ANC dons gloves for poll fight

THE African National Congress (ANC) held a US-style electoral fund-raiser in Soweto yesterday, complete with international celebrities from such disparate disciplines as boxing and chess, in celebration of the imminent demise of white minority rule.

The US boxer Riddick Bowe, the world heavyweight champion, and the former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov were among 500 guests from all around the world. Bowe, who arrived at the event with his personal television crew, said he sought to provide the ANC with more than symbolic muscle.

'If by chance the negotiations don't go well, I am a fighter and a champion and I am prepared to go to the bush with you to make them succeed,' he told the International Solidarity Conference.

The chances that Bowe's pugilistic services might be required had receded considerably 24 hours earlier, however, when the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) ended a three-day meeting with a victory for moderates pushing not for immediate majority rule, but for a coalition government to rule South Africa for the first five years after the first multi-racial elections.

Open dissent earlier this week by hardliners within the organisation, especially from the radical Natal branches, was squashed at the meeting. Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC's Secretary-General and chief negotiator, said the NEC had unanimously endorsed preliminary agreements in discussions with the government for an interim government of national unity to serve for up to five years after elections, expected to be held in about 12 months.

Eager not to be seen to be capitulating to the government, he said that the ANC had rejected the government's formula for power-sharing which, he claimed, included a demand for a minority veto. To this the government's chief negotiator, Roelf Meyer, the Constitutional Development Minister, said: 'I can't see what is the difference between power-sharing and a government of national unity.' The chief government spokesman, Dave Steward, said the differences between the sides amounted to 'semantics'.

Oliver Tambo, who in the absence of Nelson Mandela through illness delivered the keynote speech at yesterday's conference, indicated just how close, in fact, the ANC and government visions were. He said the ANC's central concern today was with national unity and nation-building. Mr Tambo said the ANC had to ensure 'the oppressors' were freed from their 'guilt-ridden fear of retribution'.

A brochure from Mr Mandela distributed to the conference delegates said that to fight the elections freely and fairly the ANC could well need in excess of R130m rand ( pounds 30m). Should Mike Tyson win his appeal and get out of jail, Riddick Bowe's income from the expected fight should cover that amount comfortably.

Mr Meyer said after a three-day meeting with the Inkatha Freedom Party in Natal that Inkatha leaders had requested that the multi-party planning conference, planned to start on 25 February, be delayed until 5 March. The ANC and the government had agreed, Mr Meyer said.

(Photograph omitted)