De Klerk and ANC agree to keep talking: Pan-Africanist Congress demands release of its detained officials before it will return to the constitutional negotiations

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The Independent Online
THE Pan-Africanist Congress said yesterday it would stay out of South Africa's constitutional negotiations until the police released its leaders, who were detained in nationwide dawn raids on Tuesday. But the African National Congress and President F W de Klerk said the talks must continue despite the furore over the arrests. They came when negotiations were at a critical stage, just a week before a date was expected to be set for the country's first democratic and non-racial elections.

The police detained 73 PAC officials and seized documents and computers in the harshest crackdown on black political leaders since Mr de Klerk came to power in 1989. Four of those arrested have been charged with illegal possession of ammunition and 19 have been released after questioning, the Commisioner of Police, General Johan van der Merwe, said late yesterday. He said five top PAC leaders remained in custody.

Gen van der Merwe said earlier that he ordered the arrests after intensive investigations into murders allegedly carried out by the Azanian People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the PAC. Press reports have linked Apla to 50 attacks on whites since January 1992, 11 of them this year.

Yet most of those arrested on Tuesday were political figures and included PAC female leaders and Mr Makwethu's personal bodyguards.

In parliament yesterday, Mr de Klerk said that he was told of the arrests hours before they took place, but his permission was not needed for 'a normal police action'. He spoke amid strong indications that not all of the cabinet, including perhaps Mr de Klerk himself, had taken part in the decision to clamp down on the PAC at such a sensitive time in the constitutional talks. The leader of the government delegation at the 26-party negotiating forum, the Minister of Constitutional Development, Roelf Meyer, said on Tuesday that he was unaware of the move.

Mr de Klerk told parliament: 'It is high time that we realise that as important as the negotiations are, it is of fundamental importance (that) we must bring murder and violence to an end in this country. We must not allow anything to derail negotiations.'

But Clarence Makwethu, the PAC president, said that the arrests were 'confirmation that apartheid is very much alive'. He demanded the release of all those detained, the return of seized documents and computers, repair of damaged property and an apology from the government. He said the PAC leadership would meet soon to make a final decision on taking part in negotiations.

Apla, in a fax sent to the South African Press Association yesterday, said that the arrests amounted to 'a declaration of war between the white oppressors and the African oppressed people'.

The ANC has also demanded the release of detained PAC officials and condemned the raid, but a statement last night supported continued negotiations. 'Nothing should be allowed to disrupt the progress achieved thus far in the negotiations process,' the ANC said.

While the arrests threaten the constitutional negotiations, they can be a boon to both extremes of the political spectrum. Suspending negotiations has been a key demand of the newly formed extreme right-wing Afrikaner movement, the Volksfront. The arrests should also raise the profile of the PAC, the small but more militant rival of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress which has been gaining support among frustrated unemployed black youths with its slogan, 'One settler, one bullet'.

(Photograph omitted)