South African white business leaders, in an unprecedented step, met today for six hours with exiled black guerrilla leaders of the African National Congress to discuss the economic future of the racially troubled country.
Despite a government warning that talking with the ANC would be an act of disloyalty, both sides said after the meeting that it was amicable and useful and that more such talks are likely to be scheduled.
"We felt, they and us, that this has been a very important contribution to the process of seeking ways and means of ending the violence of apartheid," said Gavin Relly, chairman of Anglo-American Corporation, the giant South African conglomerate that owns or controls 70 percent of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
The meeting with the guerrilla leaders took place under strict security in remote northeastern Zambia, at the private game lodge of the country's president, Kenneth Kaunda. It was attended by the heads of some of South Africa's largest companies.
The meeting ended cordially, but neither side appeared swayed from its previously stated view of South Africa's economic future.
The ANC bluntly warned that "big corporations" will be nationalized if blacks take control.
"We can't leave the large corporations operating as they do," said Oliver Tambo, president of the outlawed ANC, after the all-day meeting with the seven businessmen.
South African President Pieter W. Botha had warned earlier this week that the meeting was both "unwise" and "disloyal to the young men who are sacrificing their lives in defending South Africa's safety." Botha also accused the ANC of being "under communist leadership."
Asked after today's meeting about Botha's remarks, Relly said, "I don't think any of us had any sense of being disloyal to the government. I would have thought that for South Africans of whatever persuasion to come together to discuss the future of their country was a perfectly legitimate occupation."
Fearing even further escalation of the racial violence that has claimed more than 675 lives in the past year, Relly and the other businessmen began seeking out a meeting with ANC leaders two months ago, according to an ANC spokesman. The meeting was finally set up this week by Kaunda at Mfuwe, a presidential game lodge in the Luanga National Park about 400 miles northeast of the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
In addition to Relly, the white South Africans at the meeting included Hugh Murray, editor and publisher of Leadership S.A., a liberal business magazine; Zac de Beer, executive director of Anglo-American; Tony Bloom, chairman of the Premier Milling Group, South Africa's largest producer of flour; Peter Sorour, director general of the South African Foundation; Tertius Myburgh, editor of the Sunday Times in Johannesburg, and Harald Pakendorf, editor of a major Afrikaner newspaper.
Kaunda, an outspoken critic of apartheid who volunteers his country as home base for the ANC, sat in on the meeting but did not participate. On a stifling hot day in the game lodge near a lagoon of splashing hippos and elephants, the guerrilla leaders and the businessmen said they were -- in Relly's words -- "not nearly as antagonistic as we might have thought."
The ANC, which has been banned in South Africa for 25 years, is committed to the violent overthrow of the apartheid government. It has claimed responsibility and is blamed by the South African authorities for a series of major sabotage bombings at large industrial sites, including one owned by Relly's Anglo-American Corporation.
Besides their concern about further violence, an ANC spokesman said today that the businessmen sought to meet the guerrilla leaders because "they have problems with the Freedom Charter and nationalization." The Freedom Charter, a 30-year-old document that the ANC refers to as its bill of rights for a postapartheid government in South Africa, is a vaguely worded manifesto calling for dramatic, but unspecified, changes in the country's economic structure. One of the most controversial sections of the document says, "The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole . . . . All land shall be shared among those who work it."
After today's meeting, to which the casually clad businessmen jetted this morning from Johannesburg and ANC guerrillas in suits jetted from Lusaka, Tambo acknowledged that the business leaders were not receptive to the nationalization sections of the Freedom Charter.
"No businessman is going to agree that his business should be nationalized," he said, adding, "we cannot leave the large corporations operating as they do.
"They represent tremendous wealth in the midst of unspeakable poverty. Some move should be made toward bridging this gap and creating a more equitable distribution of wealth."
He noted that the ANC envisions "a mixed economy" for South Africa. In interviews earlier this week with The Washington Post, Tambo and other ANC leaders said that small businessmen and owners of "nonmonopoly" private property would not be affected by an ANC-controlled government.
"Ninety-five percent of white South Africa doesn't own any property except houses and cars and swimming pools," said Thabo Mbeki, one of the six ANC leaders who attended today's meeting. "So when the Freedom Charter says we nationalize the mines and all that . . . we are perfectly happy to let them [white property owners] keep those things. Nobody is going to start nationalizing swimming pools."