The South African government has secretly proposed a high-level meeting with the banned African National Congress, but the black-nationalist organization has responded cooly to what it views as a political trick. The report of South African overtures came yesterday from informed sources at an international conference here of anti-apartheid activists. The parley, called to discuss ``children, repression, and the law'' in South Africa, has attracted some 300 delegates - from South Africa, Europe, and the ANC's headquarters in Zambia.
The report coincided with a public broadside by ANC President Oliver Tambo on Pretoria's announced plan to negotiate ``power sharing'' with the country's black majority. Addressing the conference, Mr. Tambo accused the South African government of trying ``to give racial tyranny a new face.'' He said any resolution which fell short of full black-majority rule was unacceptable.
The twin developments here amounted to a new setback in Pretoria's move to establish a National Statutory Council for talks on power sharing.
The report of secret attempts to talk with the ANC - which Pretoria defines as a Communist-inspired ``terrorist'' movement - may redouble pressure from right-wing whites. Tambo's rejection of the council idea, meanwhile, will complicate official efforts to bring a credible cross-section of black leaders, including ``radicals,'' into power-sharing talks.
In a meeting with reporters last week, presidential aide Stoffel van der Merwe said he held out hope that the ANC might eventually join the Statutory Council. But he said he saw no sign that the ANC was ready to meet a government challenge to ``abandon violence'' and join ``peaceful negotiations.''
There was no immediate response available from South Africa of the reported overtures to the ANC. Asked about such contacts last week, Mr. Van der Merwe said he was unaware of any feelers, saw no urgent need for them, but would not necessarily be aware of any.