JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela broke off political negotiations with the white-minority government of President F. W. de Klerk yesterday, saying that the talks could not go on while the government was "murdering our people."
Mr. Mandela announced his decision to suspend the talks after visiting the black township of Boipatong, where 40 people were slaughtered by unknown attackers last week and police opened fire on angry residents Saturday.
"I can no longer explain to our people why we continue to talk to a government which is murdering people," Mr. Mandela, president of the African National Congress, said at a news conference outside Boipatong in the township of Evaton.
"The negotiation process is completely in tatters."
That process, launched in December when the government and 18 other parties began talks aimed at drafting a democratic constitution, was in tatters even before the Boipatong massacre.
The negotiations deadlocked last month over a major disagreement between the government and the ANC, the largest black organization in the country and the government's chief negotiation partner.
Since then, relations between the two giants of South African politics have deteriorated rapidly, with each side accusing the other of not being serious about peaceful negotiations. The ANC says that the government has no real intention of relinquishing power to the majority of the people. The government counters that the ANC doesn't want to negotiate because it knows it can't win a fair election.
Neither side has shown any indication of backing off. Instead, the ANC launched a campaign of mass demonstrations and strikes, and the government said the campaign showed that the ANC was bent on violence.
Then came the massacre Wednesday in Boipatong, an ANC stronghold, by a small army of men who stabbed, slashed and shot residents in their homes as they slept. The ANC interprets the violence as part of a conspiracy to sow chaos and fear in black communities across the country, and to discredit its protest campaign.
The Boipatong community blamed government security forces for not protecting the township, and many residents believe that police played an active role in the act -- a view encouraged by ANC leaders.
After Mr. de Klerk was chased out of the township Saturday while trying to visit mourning families, police opened fire on a crowd of angry residents -- and in the process drove black-white relations to their lowest point in more than two years.
Mr. Mandela's visit to the township yesterday contrasted sharply with the president's attempt. The ANC leader was warmly embraced by thousands of residents while he moved through the township, consoling the families of massacre victims.
Later, Mr. Mandela told about 25,000 listeners at a rally in Evaton
that Mr. de Klerk wants to keep his party in power "by brute force." He said, "We are now convinced that his method of bringing about a solution in this country is war."
The ANC president said he was suspending bilateral talks with the government and had called an emergency meeting of the ANC's governing council "to examine our options in the light of what has happened."
The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the government called for urgent talks with the ANC about the massacre.
"It has hit us as hard and is as painful as it is for any party," said Foreign Minister Roelof F. "Pik" Botha.
But Mr. Botha also took the opportunity to criticize the ANC, saying that the organization "knew its planned mass action would heighten tensions in the country."
Mr. de Klerk, who had left for a private visit to Spain when Mr. Mandela made his announcement, warned Saturday that he might be forced to maintain law and order in the country by reinstating a state of emergency. Such a state allowed the government to detain without charge tens of thousands of political activists during the 1980s.
Mr. Mandela countered: "Let me warn him that the introduction of anti-democratic measures today will result in a defiance campaign with me leading the defiance."