JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy warned South African business leaders Tuesday that their country's future stability and prosperity depend on political equality for the black majority and that the alternative is violence, greater repression and eventual revolution.
"The decisive issue," the Massachusetts Democrat told a meeting of major business groups, "is full and equal citizenship, not within the space of generations but in a reasonable span of years."
The laws that structure South Africa's system of racial separation must be repealed and the "implacable system of rule by racial minority" ended, Kennedy said.
In probably the bluntest speech heard at such a forum here in many years, a speech for which a South African might be jailed for subversion, Kennedy urged the country's top businessmen to become active agents for effective political, social and economic change.
"Some in business may say that (apartheid) is not your policy," Kennedy said, "but unless it is changed, it surely will shape your destiny. Does anyone really believe . . . that peace and order can be permanently founded on a system that represents so fundamental a disorder in human relations and human aspirations?"
Kennedy is halfway through a South Africa visit that is designed to focus attention on apartheid and to mobilize support in the United States for a campaign against it.
His trip has stirred considerable controversy in both white and black communities. White critics accuse him of meddling in South African affairs and of offering simplistic solutions to the country's problems--charges he rejected Tuesday. Some militant blacks see him as part of a white effort to control political reform.
Kennedy's speech did not spare any bluntness. "It is disheartening to hear it said so often and with such confidence," he said, "that progress is being made in this country--only to learn that the basic question of political participation for black South Africans is hardly ever raised, and never really taken seriously, in the dominant precincts of white power. Even the talk of reform seems to stop before it touches the ballot box."
He warned that if far-reaching changes are not quickly forthcoming, the probability of American economic sanctions against South Africa will increase.