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Apartheid foe cautious about reforms

@ByName:By Niraj S. Desai

One problem that Patrick Lekota, publicity secretary of the United Democratic Front, specified Wednesday in a speech at MIT's Bartos Theater, is the question of political prisoners and exiles.

South African President F. W. de Klerk last week lifted a 30-year ban on the African National Congress and other groups, and promised to release certain political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. But de Klerk said that only those convicted of nonviolent political offenses, and not crimes like murder or terrorism, would be released. And only exiled members of the ANC and the other groups not charged with crimes would be allowed to return to South Africa.

Lekota maintained that all political prisoners must be released and all exiles allowed to return before the ANC and UDF will sit down with the government.

Acts carried out in the course of political protest are different in character from ordinary crimes, Lekota said. For example, someone who kills by planting a bomb in the path of a security police vehicle should not be treated the same as someone who kills during a robbery, he explained.

De Klerk also suspended South Africa's death sentence pending a revision of the rules governing capital punishment. In his speech to Parliament on Friday, the president proposed giving judges greater leeway in sentencing, saying executions should be limited to "extreme" cases. Heretofore, conviction of a capital offense has carried an automatic death penalty.

Lekota did not see this as enough, noting that anti-apartheid militants convicted of capital crimes might still be put to death after their cases have been reviewed.

The 41-year-old Lekota, who spent 13 of the last 16 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, further stated that South Africa's state of emergency, imposed three years ago, must be lifted before the two anti-apartheid organizations join in political talks with the de Klerk regime.

The South African government has hinted recently that it may soon declare an end to the state of emergency.

The UDF, legal in South Africa since its creation in 1983, is allied with the ANC and has acted as a surrogate of sorts for the Congress inside the country.

Calls for sanctions

The presence of foreign companies in South Africa does "nothing meaningful" for the black population, Lekota asserted. He explained that the best jobs require extensive training and education -- things to which only white South Africans generally have access. Blacks often are left with low-level, low-paying jobs.

Despite the legalization of the ANC and the imminent release of Mandela, the need for sanctions and other pressure on the government is still critical, Lekota believed.

He argued that the framework of apartheid is still in place, noting that 87 percent of South Africa's land cannot be bought by blacks, who constitute 80 percent of the population; the Group Areas Act prohibits blacks from owning homes in many of the most desirable locations; the homeland system aimed at partitioning black South Africa is still in place; the country's educational system for blacks remains inferior; and the government may still invoke emergency powers to stifle opposition.

Lekota said anti-apartheid forces within South Africa were planning "mass action on a scale that has not been seen" in the country for many years.

"Apartheid is well and alive," he said. "Do not be misled."

Decades of struggle

The ANC, founded 1912, was banned in April 1960. Until then it had engaged strictly in nonviolent protest, but in 1961 it launched an armed wing, headed by Mandela, which conducted military actions against the government. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison, as were many other top ANC leaders; Mandela alone remains imprisoned. The ANC's main leadership currently is based in Zambia.

Lekota called the ANC, oldest and largest of the anti-apartheid organizations, the key representative of South Africa's black people. The UDF, whose philosophy and goals are the same as that of the ANC, was formed after the government's adoption of a new constitution and has essentially provided the ANC with an organized presence in the country.

Two major anti-apartheid groups conflict with the ANC from different sides of the political spectrum. The Pan-Africanist Congress, which was also legalized last week, was founded in 1959 in a split with the ANC. The PAC is more militant than the Congress -- calling for an armed takeover by blacks -- and less willing to negotiate.

The Inkatha movement of Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi is more conservative than the ANC. It has for the last three years struggled with the ANC for control of the black townships in Natal Province.

Lekota did not believe Inkatha would continue to be a major player. "Buthelezi's position has been seriously undermined," Lekota said. "He [has] lost support ... among the ordinary masses of workers."

A new generation

of white leaders

He noted that de Klerk and the other current leaders of the National Party have grown up since 1948. It was in 1948 that the party came to power and began building the system of white political domination and racial separation known as apartheid.

The new leaders are more sensitive to international pressure, Lekota said. In recent years, young Afrikaners have begun to leave the National Party, believing its old policies incapable of dealing with South Africa's problems, according to Lekota. He believed de Klerk's moves were intended, in part, to shore up support among the younger generations.

Moreover, the National Party's leaders realize "they need to make a future for their children." They are thinking carefully about whether they want their children to fight a protracted struggle for power with the black African majority, Lekota said.

He believed ultraconservatives would not be able to stop the trend toward reform. They may be able to weaken the National Party to an extent, but they "do not have the support and strength" to halt the liberation movement, Lekota said.