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Mandela puts the ball in FW's court
Mandela puts the ball in FW's court

The African National Congress has rejected President FW de Klerk's hard-line response to its preconditions for the resumption of talks and smashed the ball back into the president's court urging him for the sake of the country to "find a way to address the demands we have placed before you."

The tone of ANC leader Nelson Mandela's memorandum to the state president released on Thursday was sober and measured, eschewing the emotional rhetoric that has accompanied much of the political squabbling between the country's two major political parties. But it was in deadly earnest warning that in charting a way out of the crisis there are "hardly any points of convergence" between the National Party and the ANC.

De Klerk last week accused the ANC of fabricating a crisis to sabotage negotiations and launch a mass mobilisation campaign to seize power undemocratically. He alleged that the ANC had fallen under the sway of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Mandela is straightforward in his rejection of De Klerk's claims, which his memorandum says was made worse by a number of "factual inaccuracies, distortions, and blatant party political propaganda" in the manner in which he raised the issues.

He also rejects NP calls for talks about talks to get the negotiations up and running again. "The call for face-to-face talks in such a situation is entirely unacceptable," the memorandum says. "We would sit down to no more than haggle about what should constitute the agenda of such talks, rather than the serious business of taking our country to a democracy and developing firm foundations for curbing and eliminating violence."

The memorandum, drawn up after an ANC National Working Committee meeting this week, continues the dialogue by document that has replaced the bilateral and multiparty Codesa talks suspended by the ANC in the wake of the Boipatong massacre.

This has meant that for the first time the full debate between the ANC and the government is in public, clearly exposing the parameters of a basic deadlock between the two parties. It also means the ping-pong dialogue is couched as much with an eye on the international and domestic community, and at securing the moral high ground, as at responding to one another.

The ANC's response yesterday details and motivates charges that the NP is holding out for an undemocratic constitutional solution, of government complicity in violence, of the involvement of the security forces in the fomenting and escalating of violence and of government support for the Inkatha Freedom Party.

It is likely to be an effective counter smash to De Klerk's attack on the ANC last week, prompting an inevitable further riposte from De Klerk and his party. The dialogue is not a substitute for negotiations.

The NP and ANC memoranda make it clear that there has been no movement towards resolution since the breakdown of talks. Rather, they are statements of position in advance of the increasingly inevitable showdown on the street, specifically the strike next month.

Yet at the same time, the ANC memorandum offers De Klerk a way out by once again appealing to him to "recognise the gravity of the crisis". He asks De Klerk to "find a way to address the demands we have placed before you with regards to the negotiations deadlock and those relating to the violence so that negotiations can become meaningful and be vested with the urgency that the situation requires".

Mandela takes De Klerk to task for the undemocratic nature of his proposals, elevating the transitional proposals to the focus of negotiations, thus betraying a "pre-occupation with obtaining guarantees of a constitution- ally entrenched role for the NP".

He says De Klerk's statement that the purpose of negotiations according to the NP is "our commitment to constitutionality and a transitional government as soon as possible" is a "novel description of the purpose of negotiations ... and bears very little resemblance to the Declaration of Intent" adopted at Codesa I in December.

He says that in the light of the ANC's proposals, outlined in the document, it is hard to understand "why your party persists in seeking to impose undemocratic solutions".

Mandela makes it clear that its offer at Codesa II, that the constituent assembly should take decisions on the basis of 70 percent has been rescinded and taken back to the original position of two thirds. The ANC is demanding that the constituent assembly be a sovereign body and not subject to a veto by the senate or upper house.

The ANC president again sets out what he sees as the government's blame for the township violence. Mandela concludes that failure to respond by dealing with the demands can "only exacerbate the crisis" and that: "You may succeed in delaying but never in preventing the transition of South Africa to a democracy".