Attacks on the homes and property of South African whites, such as occurred last week in the Cape Town area, symbolize the direction in which accelerating antiapartheid violence is now headed, said Oliver Tambo, the exiled president of the outlawed African National Congress, today.
"The attacks on white houses merely point a direction, the way the struggle is moving and must move. It is never going to be confined, in fact, to just black areas. That is the reality that is coming," Tambo said in an interview in this Zambian capital, where the ANC is based.
[In South Africa, President Pieter W. Botha denounced a proposed meeting of white businessmen with the ANC in Lusaka.]
Tambo said the antiapartheid movement has entered "an era of heavy bloodshed" that is "in a class of its own" since apartheid became the government's policy in 1948.
"We have reached this level, and there cannot be any going back. There is going to be more bloodshed, and the whole country will be involved," Tambo said.
Asked about concern in the U.S. government about Soviet support of the ANC and the organization's long-term affiliation with the Communist Party of South Africa, Tambo said the ANC accepts Soviet support because it offers what is unavailable elsewhere.
"The Soviet Union will give us what the West does not want to give us, namely, weapons," said Tambo, who diplomatic observers of the ANC say never has been an advocate of doctrinaire communism. "We cannot boycott the Soviet Union. It is willing to help. A liberation group does not have the luxury of selecting."
Tambo, 68, after more than 40 years in the ANC and more than 20 years in exile, has a reputation as one of the organization's important voices of moderation, compared to its younger generation of leaders.
Tambo for years supported a policy of guerrilla sabotage that was designed to minimize accidental killing of civilians. He said his new-found militancy was the result both of a recent shift in ANC strategy, aimed at spreading violence "across the face of the country," and of the growing number of blacks' deaths in South Africa.
"The people are being butchered, shot at like rabbits, and it goes on and on," Tambo said, referring to the one-year death toll that has reached more than 675.
The ANC, which has been banned in South Africa since 1960 and which a year later turned to violence to press an end to apartheid, is said to have 6,000 to 8,000 members in the so-called front-line states of Zambia, Tanzania and Angola. Between 1977 and 1983, the ANC claimed a number of major sabotage bombings inside South Africa, including a car-bombing on a Pretoria street in May 1983 that killed 18 persons and injured more than 200.
In the current violence, the ANC says it has been instrumental in triggering a "people's war" aimed at making black townships "ungovernable." To that end, scores of black "collaborators" in township councils have been attacked, their homes burned. About 100 blacks have been killed by other blacks this year, and nearly a dozen black policemen have been killed in the last 12 months.
In a two-hour interview at his small office in an unmarked downtown compound, Tambo linked the growing violence in South Africa with Reagan administration's policy in the region.
"We have been struck by the obduracy of President Reagan and his persistence in maintaining an alliance with racist South Africa," said Tambo. That alliance, he said, has helped make the South African government more aggressively repressive.
Tambo added, however, in response to a question about possible talks between the U.S. government and the ANC, that he would be willing to meet with Reagan or other senior administration officials to discuss American policy in South Africa. In the past week, ANC officials have said that the U.S. government has sent signals that it would be interested in some kind of dialogue with the ANC.
"We wouldn't want to meet Reagan for the sake of meeting him. If President Reagan thought a meeting would be useful for him, if he was interested, well I certainly would meet him and speak to him," said Tambo.
He added that he also would be willing to speak to Chester A. Crocker, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Crocker is the primary author of the U.S. policy of "constructive engagement" to promote change through friendly commercial and economic relations with South Africa. The ANC says this policy has backfired and made South Africa less willing to end apartheid and more willing to shoot black South Africans.
"Crocker has come here and walked past and saw everybody except the ANC," Tambo said, referring to Crocker's visits to southern Africa in recent years. "I never refuse to see anybody."
Tambo said he was encouraged by a recent statement by a senior State Department official, which for the first time urged South Africa to permit the ANC to take part in talks on the country's future. The statement, Tambo said, marked a "significant" turn in the U.S. attitude toward his organization.
"They have tended in the past to dismiss us as just a group of terrorists and communists. We would be bypassed. Indeed, they have bypassed us all the time. They now concede that no solution is going to be found to the South African situation without the involvement of the ANC."
He also said it was significant that the State Department made no demand that the African National Congress renounce violence as a condition for participation in talks. The Pretoria government has insisted upon such a renunciation.
Given the escalation of violence in South Africa, Tambo said, the "only role we see for the Reagan administration is if it decides to apply sanctions to South Africa, full sanctions. If the United States did this, it would be giving a proper lead to the rest of the western countries which are involved with the apartheid system in giving it sustenance. That is the only way we could avoid escalation of bloodshed."
He added that the ANC is grateful to Congress and American people for pressing for economic sanctions. "We have expected the administration to lend an ear to their voice," Tambo said.
As for the willingness of the ANC to negotiate a settlement with the South African government, Tambo reinforced the view expressed in a recent Washington Times interview with Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned former president of the ANC, who was quoted as saying he did not favor a proposed national convention and that the time for peaceful struggle had passed.
The congress' political support is difficult to determine, but in a recent poll, a South African sociologist opposing apartheid, Mark Orkin, found that 39 percent of 800 blacks said they looked to the ANC, Mandela or the closely allied United Democratic Front for leadership. Other polls have shown similar results.
Tambo said that with the continuing refusal of President Pieter W. Botha to agree to the principle of one-man, one-vote, there was no possibility that the ANC would be a party to any negotiations.
"We don't want to talk about amendments to the apartheid system or reforms to be made while white-military rule persists," Tambo said. But he added that if the conflict reaches a stage where the Botha government is willing to "discuss the modalities for transferring from the apartheid system to a nonracial government," then the ANC would participate.
The ANC decision to begin striking at what it calls "soft targets," meaning military personnel and officials of the apartheid government, was made in late June in a secret consultative conference of about 250 ANC members at Kabwe, a mining town north of Lusaka, said Tambo, in a "shift of emphasis."
"In the past we had gone out of our way to strike at objects in conditions when no one would get hurt," Tambo said. "And so in the totality of our actions in the past 20 years very few people have died, except on our side. We have been killed a lot.
"We moved out of that. There must be more casualties on the other side as well. This is the shift."
He said that the ANC will not criticize or try to restrain the kind of violence that occurred last week in the Cape Town area, in which nonwhites attacked the homes of white civilians. "We wouldn't be in a hurry to condemn people who have suffered something like 600 to 700 dead shot down by police at the insistence of a government elected by whites. We couldn't," Tambo said.
The Kabwe conference also saw the election, for the first time in the 73-year history of the ANC, of a white man and two East Indians to the organization's top governing body, the National Executive Council. Tambo said the election should be seen as a symbol of commitment to nonracial solutions.
In the event that the ANC comes to power in South Africa, Tambo said it would -- as it has said for decades -- follow plans outlined in the "freedom charter," a 30-year-old ANC document that calls for nationalization of major industries and redistribution of land and wealth.