S. Africa Lifts Ban on ANC, Other GroupsBy David B. Ottaway
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 3, 1990; Page A01
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA, FEB. 2 -- President Frederik W. de Klerk today lifted a 30-year-old ban on the country's main black opposition group, the African National Congress, and announced that authorities soon will "unconditionally" free imprisoned black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela.
De Klerk also declared that the outlawed South African Communist Party and the Pan-Africanist Congress will be allowed to resume legal political activities inside the country; that restrictions on 33 opposition groups, including the United Democratic Front, are being lifted, and that no more hangings will take place in South Africa pending a review of the death penalty.
In addition, he said that persons serving prison sentences only for belonging to any of the groups would be released and that restrictions imposed on 374 others under the 1986 state of emergency would be dropped.
In the stunning array of political reforms outlined in his speech marking the opening of Parliament, de Klerk went much further than outside observers or South Africans had anticipated, basically legalizing black nationalist politics and taking steps toward sharing power with South Africa's majority black population.
One consequence of the measures announced today may be to spur action by the Bush administration to lift or modify some of the sanctions imposed on South Africa in 1986 to protest apartheid, Pretoria's racial segregation policy that has left the country's black majority politically disenfranchised contains provisions authorizing the president to take such action if South Africa's white-minority government takes steps like those de Klerk anounced today.
Senior government officials indicated today that they were hoping the new measures would lead to just such a response from the United States and other Western nations.
The South African president also announced today that most restrictions on media coverage of opposition activities will be lifted, that detention under the state of emergency law will be limited to six months and that he will cancel the legislation entirely "as soon as circumstances justify it."
"These decisions by the cabinet are in accordance with the government's declared intention to normalize the political process in South Africa without jeopardizing the maintenance of the good order," de Klerk told the tricameral body of white, colored and Asian deputies.
"There is no longer any reasonable excuse for the continuation of violence," he said. "The time for talking has arrived, and whoever still makes excuses does not really wish to talk."
De Klerk challenged black opposition groups to "walk through the open door, take your place at the negotiating table together with the government and other leaders who have important power bases inside and outside of Parliament," he said.
The government banned the ANC in 1960. Until the banning, the group, formed in 1912, had used peaceful means to end apartheid but formed a military wing in 1961. In 1962, Mandela, who is now 71, was jailed for a passport violation and later sentenced to life in prison for helping to plan a campaign of sabotage against the government.
Today, while black taxi drivers honked their horns in celebration and several thousand young black and mixed-race youth danced in the streets here, in Johannesburg and in Durban, South Africa's anti-apartheid leaders appeared stunned by de Klerk's speech. Some offered rare praise for the South African leader while others reacted with caution or criticized him for not meeting all their demands immediately.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, head of the South African Anglican Church and a longtime outspoken critic of the Pretoria government, told reporters at a press conference that de Klerk's speech was "incredible. What he said has certainly taken my breath away."
Tutu said that while de Klerk did not meet all black demands, he went a long way down the road toward meeting most of them.
"Give him credit, man. Do give him credit. I do," he said.
ANC leaders gathered in Stockholm, where ANC president Oliver Tambo is recovering from a stroke, hailed de Klerk's measures as "progressive" but also noted that they did not include either a commitment to release all political prisoners or a complete lifting of the state of emergency -- two of their main demands for starting negotiations with the government.
United Democratic Front leaders here, in what they called "a preliminary response," said they "happily welcomed" the news and that they "conceded the boldness of some of the steps" de Klerk had taken.
But they also noted there are still laws curtailing free political activity in the country, such as the Internal Security Act, that allows the government to detain activists and charge them with terrorism.
The measures announced today by de Klerk do not immediately offer the nation's blacks, who outnumber whites 5-to-1, the right to vote or any real political power.
But, de Klerk said, the aim of the process of negotiation "is totally new and just constitutional dispensation in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity in every sphere of endeavor -- constitutional, social and eocnomic."
Senior government officials briefing reporters on de Klerk's speech said ANC leaders, such as Tambo, who have not been charged or investigated for "murder, terrorism or arson," were free to return home. But ANC publicity secretary, Patrick "Terror" Lekota, said that if Tambo returned, "he would immediately find himself under arrest" because "they have not been offered immunity from arrest."
Andries Treurnicht, leader of the Conservative Party, which supports apartheid, called for an immediate election for white voters to measure support for the government's move.
"We say he has no mandate for doing the drastic things he intends doing," Treurnicht said.
Leaders of the United Democratic Front, the country's largest coalition of anti-apartheid groups, formed in 1983, said they will continue to insist on the fulfillment of all their demands, which include the release of all political prisoners, an end to the state of emergency and the withdrawal of all troops from the country's black townships.
Estimates of the number of people detained on politically related charges here range from 350 to 2,500. The Weekly Mail said the number includes 22 people serving life terms and 45 others sentenced to 20 years or more.
In his speech, de Klerk appeared to concentrate on meeting the main ANC demands for the opening of negotiations with the white government, namely the lifting of restrictions on the political activity of anti-apartheid groups.
Mandela had insisted that the government take the measures announced today first to prepare the political climate for the ANC's and his own re-entry into politics.
De Klerk appeared somewhat defensive that he had not been able to include an announcement about the precise timing of Mandela's release, saying he wished "to put it plainly that the government has taken a firm decision to release Mr. Mandela unconditionally" and that he was "serious about bringing this matter to finality without delay."
"The government will take a decision soon on the date of his release," he said, adding "unfortunately, a further short passage of time is unavoidable."
"In the case of Mr. Mandela there are factors in the way of his immediate release, of which his personal circumstances and safety are not the least," he said.
Mandela is expected to be released later this month barring further complications.
De Klerk had reportedly been seeking a commitment from Mandela and the ANC to renounce armed struggle as part of a deal involving his release. But today he said Mandela's release would be "unconditional."
At the same time, he made an appeal for the ANC to renounce violence now that the ban on the organization had been lifted because "the justification for violence which was always advanced no longer exists."
De Klerk defended his decision to legalize the ANC, Pan-Africanist Congress and South African Communist Party, saying that events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had weakened outside communist support for them and that they no longer posed a serious threat to the country's internal security. He said the South African police had been consulted on this decision.
He said the state of emergency, which the ANC has insisted be ended before talks can start, would continue because "an emergency situation" still exists "as a consequence of the countrywide political power struggle" and because of indications that "radicals" are trying to disrupt the move toward black-white negotiations.
"It is my intention to terminate the state of emergency completely as soon as circumstances justify it," he said.
De Klerk said reform of the death penalty "is indicated" and that it should be limited to "extreme cases." He said there should be automatic right of appeal for those sentenced to death.
"All executions have been suspended, and no executions will take place until Parliament has taken a final decision on the new proposals," he said.
There are about 300 people awaiting execution, of which around 120 have been condemned for politically related offenses, according to the Lawyers for Human Rights organization. The Human Rights Commission put the number on death row at 274 at the end of last year, 79 of whom were convicted for political offenses.
Regarding the controversial issue of detention, he said the period would be limited to six months and that detainees would gain the right to legal counsel and a doctor. But he left unclear whether changes will be made in the Internal Security Act, which provides for persons to be held for consecutive periods of six months.
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