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17 Maintain Hunger Strike Despite Mandela Plea

June 7, 1991

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Despite worsening health, 17 prisoners maintained hunger strikes Friday and ignored a plea by Nelson Mandela to resume eating.

The Human Rights Commission, an independent monitoring group, said 14 of the prisoners were hospitalized with ailments that include weakness, dizziness, and low blood pressure. Eleven of the inmates have been fasting from 35 to 38 days to demand their freedom, said Safoora Sadek, a commission member.

One prisoner, Nathaniel Mbatha, is suffering from jaundice and his doctors fear he could have liver damage, Ms. Sadek said.

″After such a long time without food, they could suffer permanent damage at any time,″ she said.

Some of the fasting inmates, who say they are political prisoners, have been taking only water while others also have been receiving glucose.

Mandela, leader of the African National Congress opposition movement, on Thursday urged the prisoners to end the fasts.

″We are convinced that the point which the hunger strikers wished to convey ... has been conveyed,″ Mandela said. ″We appeal to all our comrades to terminate the hunger strike.″

Thirteen hunger strikers resumed eating Thursday after Mandela issued his statement, Ms. Sadek said. The rest were aware of Mandela’s call, but were determined to continue fasting until they were freed, she added.

Sources in the anti-apartheid movement, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say the ANC and the government have reached an agreement and a number of hunger strikers are likely to be released soon.

President F.W. de Klerk ordered eight ailing hunger strikers freed May 24 following appeals by Mandela and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The ANC and the government agreed last year that political prisoners should be released by April 30.

But disputes over who qualifies have delayed de Klerk’s efforts to start black-white negotiations on a new constitution that would extend political rights to the 30-million black majority.

More than 100 prisoners have taken part in the hunger strike since May 1, saying they should have been freed by April 30.

Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee said Tuesday that inmates who clearly qualified as political prisoners have been released. More than 1,000 have been freed since early last year, he said.

But the Human Rights Commission and anti-apartheid groups say 1,800 people convicted of politically motivated acts remain jailed.

Coetsee says all the disputed cases involve people convicted of serious crimes, such as attacks on members of the security forces.

The ANC and other anti-apartheid groups argue that such acts were committed as part of a guerrilla war against the white-led government and were political, not criminal.

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