De Klerk sets battle lines against ANC

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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICA braced itself last night for a dangerous war of attrition between the government and the African National Congress after President F W de Klerk issued a hard-hitting and uncompromising response to the decision last week by the ANC to call off constitutional negotiations.

The crisis precipitated by the Boipatong massacre on 17 June deepened after President de Klerk, digging his government in, declared in a radio broadcast to the nation that the ANC had been taken over by Communists bent on confrontation and seizure of power. There was 'every reason to believe' that the ANC was creating 'an artificial crisis' with the objective of overthrowing the government, he said. 'They want to force their views on the rest of society through confrontation and mass mobilisation. This will not be tolerated.'

Roelf Meyer, the Constitutional Development Minister and head of the government negotiating team, spoke after Mr de Klerk and invited the ANC to stop its 'reckless' campaign of mass mobilisation and hold bilateral talks on the way forward to a new constitution. He also proposed 'trilateral' talks to include the Inkatha Freedom Party as the means to resolve township violence.

But apart from a suggestion that the government, the ANC and Inkatha should also set up violence monitoring teams, possibly assisted by international observers, there was no indication from the government that it was prepared to meet any of the 14 demands the ANC made before it would renew talks.

The ANC said last night it was not ready to issue an official response. But it was reliably learnt that ANC leaders were aghast at what they perceived to be an absence of initiative, imagination and goodwill by the government.

Senior members of the ANC executive privately explained after they issued their demands last week - among them specific moves both to curb violence and a general committment to majority rule - that they believed they had left the door open to the government to meet them halfway.

Their judgement, yesterday showed, was flawed.

The sort of measures the ANC wants the government to take on the violence would amount, if implemented, to admissions that the security forces and Inkatha are the main agents of township destabilisation. For example, the ANC has demanded that the government close down the single men's hostels where Inkatha has its strongholds and that police and army officers implicated in the political killings - 7,000 have died since January 1990 - be arrested.

Far from bowing to such demands, the government, which met Inkatha yesterday morning, went on a counter-offensive. Hernus Kriel, the Minister of Law and Order, told reporters that the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, had played 'a major role' in the township violence. He categorically denied that the government and the security forces were responsible.

Mr Kriel ruled out the possibility of a 'national' state of emergency, but left open the possibility that regional states of emergency might be imposed in what he called 'the hotspots'.

Earlier, Mr de Klerk had said the government would not hesitate to take the steps necessary to avoid a 'slide into anarchy'. He said: 'We will not allow the country to become ungovernable.' This, he said, was the objective of the ANC's allies, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has called for a general strike on 3 August.

The country, Mr de Klerk said, stood at a crossroads. One road, via negotiations, led to peace and a representative 'new South Africa' government. The other, through the ANC's mass mobilisation, led to poverty and deeper conflict. Nothing the government said yesterday suggested that the first road was an option at present.