Donald Woods examines moves in the United States Congress to impose economic sanctions on South Africa
LEGISLATION now emanating from the US Congress to put economic pressure on the South African government constitutes the first salvo in what looks likely to develop into an international barrage of sanctions aimed at the dismantling of apartheid.
Led by Edward Kennedy, the bi-partisan movement in the US Senate for such legislation introduces a distinctive new phase in the international world response to apartheid.
For more than a decade, in the face of demands by more than 100 member states of the United Nations, Pretoria's only protection against mandatory economic sanctions was the veto by the United States and Britain in the Security Council.
But now that 35 million black Americans have placed the apartheid issue squarely into the forefront of American domestic politics, and now that prominent Republicans are sharing the concern which Democrats have long expressed over apartheid, the days of US veto in the Security Council on the issue are numbered.
How long could Britain be isolated in that body as the only protector of the most hated government in the world? Malcolm Rifkind, currently the UK government's chief spokesman on the issue, is firmly opposed to any move towards sanctions. But practical politics suggest it would be unrealistic, in terms of British interests, to maintain such opposition indefinitely.
For one thing, it is an issue which would split the Commonwealth, if the United Kingdom stands out against the other 4R Commonwealth states — most of which are predominantly black and therefore understandably sensitive about apartheid.
For another, the EEC as a body is also moving inexorably towards a policy of economic sanctions, led by France, and the recent US development would have done much to move the West Germans the same way.
Today Nigeria and the other black-ruled states of Africa are considerably more important to Britain as trading partners than South Africa is, and this fact too will influence the British policy makers.
Pretoria has spent a good deal abroad to misinform the international community about the likely effects of sanctions, and one claim now enjoying popularity among the opponents of sanctions is that such sanctions would hit blacks more than whites. This is invariably followed up by the subsidiary claim that most South African blacks don't want economic pressures on South Africa, or that such pressures would drive white South Africans to greater intransigence and therefore prolong rather than foreshorten apartheid.
But it is significant that these claims are invariably made by white South Africans not previously distinguished by their solicitude for blacks, and when they are made by blacks, the latter are invariably blacks who either directly or indirectly depend on the South African government for income, status and freedom of movement.
As in Poland, the real spokespersons of the masses are under restraint or harassment, and are not given freedom to travel or official posts in the state structure.
In South Africa the most significant black spokespersons are unquestionably people like Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Allan l3oesak — and they all support the moves for international economic pressures to hasten the end of apartheid.
As to the whites becoming more intransigent, the very origin of the claim should bring it under suspicion. Similar claims were made before the sporting boycott, and they proved the opposite of true when it took effect. . Whether or not South African blacks would suffer more than whites from ,economic sanctions — and that is by no means certain — the significant black leaders have long made it clear that they regard the question as irrelevant. Their argument is that even if the claims were true, it would be a price blacks would be prepared to pay in addition to the heavy daily penalties of apartheid already imposed on them. The South African government has now threatened that if sanctions are imposed it will consider expelling more than one million foreign black workers. But there aren't one million black workers in South Africa. Minister Gerrit Viljoen recently admitted that 944,000 black workers described as "foreign" are actually South African blacks from the four "homelands" of Vcnda, Transkei, Ciskei and Bophutatswana, and it was not explained how, in the event of such "expulsions" the country would find workers for the mines and farms.
The truth is that the last remaining nonviolent option the world has to influence radical change in South Africa is the economic and diplomatic isolation of the apartheid government. These measures might conceivably compel Pretoria to the negotiating table with the country's real black leaders such as Nelson Mandela for the working out of a democratic solution.
The alternative is ghastly to contemplate — complete inactivity by the international community beyond mere verbal condemnation, as the South African tragedy escalates into wide-spread racial conflict and loss of life.
Continuing western economic and diplomatic support for Pretoria undoubtedly underpins the apartheid state, providing revenues which enable the South African government to maintain its repressive structures, and the prison and military establishment which buttress them. In one recent year Pretoria's military budget increase was matched by a billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund.
As to diplomatic representation, the down-grading of South African embassies to consular status, or better still the closing down of all direct representation by South African diplomats, as New Zealand has already done, would be an effective psychological blow to the Pretoria government.
It would not necessarily create hardship, as South African representation could be handled indirectly through other embassies as is the practice in such cases. In this matter thc indirect link for South Africa with the international community could well be the High Commission here, and the embassies abroad, of the brave little country which Pretoria has tried so long to bully and dominate — Lesotho.
Such measures would serve as a strong sign that South Africa will only be returned to full trade, investment, sporting and diplomatic links when the majority of its citizens are allowed to vote. In short, when all traces of apartheid have been removed.