African National Congress leader Oliver Tambo met for 45 minutes with a British government minister today and hinted afterward that further talks might take place in the future.
While Tambo said that he was unable to budge Britain from its opposition to comprehensive economic sanctions against South Africa during his talks with Foreign Office Minister of State Lynda Chalker and had given no promise to give up his group's guerrilla campaign, he said that they both had expressed the hope for what he called "further opportunities for discussion of these matters."
Tambo's meeting with Chalker marked the first time a British minister has received a representative of the congress, outlawed as a terrorist organization by the white-led South African government.
While Chalker told reporters that "there was a good deal more understanding than I feared there might be," the significance of the meeting was not so much its content but that it took place at all.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government had consistently refused to meet a congress representative until it renounced its violent tactics.
Although Thatcher explained to the House of Commons today that Chalker was meeting Tambo to persuade him to give up violence as a means to end the system of apartheid, the move was widely interpreted as a signal to the South African government that it must do more to bring about change.
The meeting also was likely intended to ease pressure on Britain from the other nations of the Commonwealth, where it is virtually isolated in opposing broad sanctions.
"We have had a very serious and useful meeting," Chalker said. "We were very honest and strong and candid with one another but we left the meeting shaking hands, talking about the future."
Tambo described the meeting as useful. "We got the views of the British government; the ANC got its own views across," he said. "One doesn't expect to meet a Foreign Office minister and begin immediately to expect a shift of positions."
Earlier today, Tambo met with a group of Conservative members of Parliament where he refused to renounce the use of "necklace" killings, in which tires are placed around a victim's neck and set on fire.
"The necklace is a product of apartheid," he maintained. "I regret it but I cannot condemn it."