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But how to tap that reservoir? Even if a majority of South African whites were prepared to accept Momberg's ideas about power sharing, which they are not at present, it is by no means clear whether it would be acceptable to a majority of blacks. With the current wave of police actions and arrests, a familiar pattern is beginning to emerge. The United Democratic Front, founded in 1983 to organize broad-based multiracial opposition to the government, has revealed some sympathy for the outlawed and exiled African National Congress. One by one, U.D.F. leaders have been put under surveillance or detained, actions that are reminiscent of the treatment the A.N.C. suffered before it was declared illegal in 1960. Earlier this year, Botha offered to release the imprisoned Mandela if he would forswear the use of violence in the quest to gain black rule. Though he had been behind bars for 23 years, Mandela said no.
Ever since Mandela's arrest in 1962 on charges of attempted sabotage and treason, his former deputy, Oliver Tambo, now 68, has run the A.N.C. from exile, currently in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. The A.N.C. has received support from the Soviet Union, as well as some Western nations, and is increasingly co operating with the also banned South African Communist Party. The alliance has made it convenient for the Pretoria government to describe the township unrest as Communist inspired. Over the years, the A.N.C. has trained guerrilla fighters at camps in various black African countries and staged a number of border attacks and acts of sabotage. Its present strength is estimated to be about 7,000 armed men, but it suffered a severe setback last year when South Africa and Mozambique signed a nonaggression pact, forcing the A.N.C. to abandon its guerrilla camps in southern Mozambique. More recently, the South African army staged a lightning raid on what it claimed was an A.N.C. installation in Botswana, killing twelve people.
Tambo's response was that such military setbacks would merely force the A.N.C. to place greater emphasis on sabotage. In the future, he said, the guerrillas would strike not only at military and economic targets but civilian ones as well. The A.N.C. has since demonstrated that it is capable of doing that, though in most cases the victims have been black. What remains in doubt is whether the A.N.C. at present has anywhere near the power it would need to make a serious dent in the country's finely honed security apparatus.
Since blacks are not allowed to vote, nobody knows for certain how popular the A.N.C. is among them, but it is generally assumed that the organization enjoys considerable strength with young activists in the Johannesburg and Eastern Cape townships. Four years ago, a poll by the English-language Johannesburg Star indicated that 40% of blacks in the major cities would vote for the A.N.C. and 76% considered Mandela the most popular political leader. A survey last March by City Press, a black newspaper in Johannesburg, also put Mandela on top.