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Vanishing Opportunities

April 18, 1985

The spreading protest within and without South Africa regarding the prolongation of apartheid has at least inspired the government in Pretoria to accelerate the implementation of two previous commitments--the 14-month-old agreement to get its troops out of Angola, and its promise to review, and now to terminate, legislative prohibitions on sexual activity and marriage between people of different races.

South Africa's foreign minister, Roelof Botha, has been disappointed by the coolness of the reception given these announcements--particularly in Washington, where the Administration took care to say the obvious: that more is needed. Much more. White-minority rulers find it difficult to grasp that most of the rest of the world is not impressed by their cosmetic modifications of the state-imposed racism. Even this latest concession regarding the legislation on marriage and sexual activity fails to address the fundamentals of apartheid.

"The issues of common citizenship for all and of black political rights have been raised but not yet concretely addressed by the government," Secretary of State George P. Shultz said a day after the announcements were made in Pretoria. That is the point of the protests. There is no sharing of political power with the majority, no recognition even of basic property rights.

Within South Africa the latest demands for change have come from people of strong commitment to peaceful change, people who reject recourse to violence. But the rulers seem to make no distinction between those who favor peaceful change and those who are dedicated to violence and disruption, rejecting the counsel of both. Shultz called attention to pending trials on treason charges for some of the black leaders. The South African government may resent outside counsel, but it demonstrates with each angry rejection how very much it needs that counsel.

Shultz has spoken effectively in opposition to new efforts to use economic sanctions against South Africa to force change. Those extreme measures may one day be the only recourse. But so long as there is movement or the promise of movement, the implementation of such economic sanctions would only reduce the effectiveness of the U.S. government and private American companies in bringing reform to South Africa. And there is litle likelihood that sanctions would be effective.

Unfortunately, the United States continues to be an instrument of the delay in bringing independence to Namibia. President Reagan appears more concerned about seeing that the Cubans are removed from Angola than in living up to his commitment to respect the United Nations' plan for independence for Namibia. And South Africa's sustained support for the UNITA rebels of Jonas Savimbi in Angola creates a situation without solution. The government of Angola can hardly be expected to send home all of the Cubans, who provide sorely needed technical assistance as well as help in defense of the nation against the UNITA rebels, so long as that insurrection is maintained with all the largess at South Africa's command.

There is another risk now in Namibia. The South Africans appear tempted once again to slip out of their promise to implement the U.N. agreement, and instead to establish interim rule in the hands of internal parties more in concert with South Africa than with the popular and militant South-West Africa People's Organization that has led the struggle for independence. The American ambassador was among those calling on the foreign minister in recent days to remind him that his promise has not been forgotten.

Opportunities that were so evident at the beginning of Reagan's first term four years ago seem to have slipped away. The very pride that South African leaders take in their grudging concessions in modifying elements of apartheid shows how little they understand the risk of letting those opportunities vanish.

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