Although the South African government has condemned it and the Zambian government is trying to play it down, a meeting between several white South African business leaders and the antiapartheid African National Congress appears imminent here.
A spokesman for the ANC, the outlawed guerrilla group based here in the Zambian capital, said today that the meeting was scheduled for Friday between ANC leaders, including its president, Oliver Tambo, and a group of influential South African businessmen and industrialists.
"They will discuss the present situation in South Africa as well as its future. They will share all their opinions," Tom Sebena, the ANC spokesman, said early today.
Later, however, the senior press aide to Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, who is helping to arrange the meeting, said it would not take place Friday but rather "around sometime next week . . . . It is no use giving the impression that there is a big meeting in Lusaka."
Last Sunday, word of the possible meeting provoked South African President Pieter W. Botha to say that no government-sanctioned negotiations with the ANC were possible as long as it was "under communist leadership." The ANC receives most of its weapons from the Soviet Union but maintains that it is an independent liberation movement.
Referring to the meeting between the ANC and the business leaders, Botha added, "I regard such attempts as unwise and even disloyal to the young men who are sacrificing their lives in defending South Africa's safety."
South African businessmen mentioned in Lusaka and Johannesburg as likely to attend the meeting include Gavin Relly, chairman of the board of Anglo-American Corp., the largest mining conglomerate in South Africa and one of the world's largest industrial concerns. In a statement in South Africa this week, Relly denied that he would participate in "negotiations" with the ANC, but he did not rule out talking to the organization.
Also mentioned as participants are Anton Rupert, chairman of the Rembrandt Group, a major tobacco consortium; Raymond Ackerman, owner of the large Pick 'n Pay retail chain; Tony Bloom, chairman of the Premier Milling Group, which processes much of South Africa's corn flour, and Hugh Murray, publisher and editor of Leadership S.A., a glossy, liberal business magazine that has published interviews with black African leaders such as Kaunda. Murray has confirmed to South African journalists that he will participate in the meeting, and he is considered the key organizer on the South African side.
Although the white South Africans considered likely to attend the meeting are among the most powerful in that country's business community, their wider political clout is limited because only one of them, Rupert, is an Afrikaner. Afrikaners, descendants of the Dutch farmers who came to South Africa more than 300 years ago, form the political backbone of Botha's ruling National Party.
ANC spokesman Sebena said here this morning that Kaunda, who for years has given sanctuary to guerrilla groups fighting white minority governments in southern Africa, would greet the South African businessmen upon their arrival in Zambia. But he added that the president would not participate in any discussions. "He does not want to play matchmaker," Sebena said.
Later Sebena, after being told by the Zambian government to stop talking about the meeting, said that "the less we say the better."
"Whether it is taking place or is not taking place, we must not say a word about it," Sebena said.