Patriotic Front

November 13, 1991

The African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress and 92 other anti-apartheid organisations have agreed to form a Patriotic Front. This will strengthen the anti-apartheid movement, allowing it to enter constitutional negotiations with a united voice.

Other participants include the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the National Council of Trade Unions, the Communist Party, the liberal white Democratic Party and youth, women's, religious, business, sports and cultural organisations.

A non-participant was the Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO). The ANC and PAC stripped the organisation of its joint convener status after AZAPO unilaterally sent letters to all intending participants demanding that they withdraw from "apartheid structures". This would have excluded several parties which participate in bantustan administrations and the racist parliamentary system but profess an opposition to apartheid and the National Party.

The agreement is a significant shift in the PAC's previous anti-negotiations stance. PAC information secretary Barney Desai described the meeting in Durban over the October 25-26 weekend as "an unprecedented milestone. It saw many forces coming together to demand the transfer of power to the majority.

"Equally important is that, after 31 years, the PAC and the ANC have come together to identify strategies to achieve the objective of a new democratic constitution."

The core of the agreement is the need for an elected constituent assembly to formulate a democratic constitution. The PF agreed to the convening of an All Party Conference to set the principles that will be the basis of the new constitution.

"We have achieved unity, but not in the sense that we have agreed on everything", Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, one of the ANC's representatives at the conference, explained. "We are still different organisations with different programs of action, different strategies and different policies."

Desai agreed, adding that the conference prioritised the search for consensus over the establishment of binding structures. "We agreed that we would act in unity where there is consensus. Where there is no consensus, we would do our best to achieve [it]. Where we cannot achieve consensus, we will proceed as individual parties.

"There has been a marrying of positions", he said. The most important is the PAC's acceptance of the ANC's All Party Conference concept.

Initially the PAC rejected the APC because it was worried that the ANC would agree to it formulating a new constitution. However, because of the ANC's "complete and unalterable commitment to a constituent assembly", the PAC has now accepted the APC (or the Pre-Constituent Assembly as the PAC prefers to call it).

The PAC and the ANC will meet with the government to discuss the convener of the APC and the venue. The PAC favours the convener being an international body.

There remain differences between the ANC's call for an interim government and the PAC's call for a "transitional authority". It is not yet clear whether this difference is real or semantic.

Both agree that the interim government/transitional authority should be in control of the security forces and state-controlled media, but the PAC opposes this body being in "control of budget and finance, because we do not want to co-manage apartheid".
[Compiled from reports that appeared in the progressive South African weekly New Nation.]

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