WASHINGTON — The House delivered a sharp bipartisan rebuke Wednesday to President Reagan's low-key approach to fighting apartheid, overwhelmingly approving legislation that would for the first time slap tough economic sanctions on South Africa.
On a 295-127 vote, the House backed a measure sponsored by Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.) that would ban new U.S. investment in South Africa, halt American bank loans and U.S. computer exports to the Pretoria government and forbid the sale in this country of gold Krugerrand coins, one of South Africa's most lucrative foreign exchange earners.
Despite Administration objections to the bill, 56 Republicans voted for it. However, all GOP members of the California delegation opposed the measure, except Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, who voted in favor, and Rep. William M. Thomas of Bakersfield, who did not vote. All California Democrats backed the bill, except Rep. George Miller of Martinez, who did not vote.
The House legislation's passage came only one day after the Republican-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee also signaled disenchantment with the Administration's policy of "constructive engagement." It voted 16 to 1 in favor of another anti-apartheid bill imposing somewhat milder restrictions on U.S. trade.
The victory margins on the House floor and in the Senate committee increased the likelihood that some form of anti-apartheid legislation--although possibly not as punitive as that passed by the House--will emerge from Congress this session. The margins also suggested that backers would have the votes to override a potential presidential veto.
In a letter to House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) released Wednesday, Secretary of State George P. Shultz warned that the sanctions could hurt American companies that have "clearly been in the forefront of change in the workplace in South Africa" and could imperil the jobs of their 55,000 black employees.
'Wrong Message' Feared
Shultz insisted that the Administration's policy of relying on quiet diplomacy to bring about change is showing results. "The Administration believes the Gray bill would send precisely the wrong message at the wrong time," he wrote.
But Gray, calling Shultz's contention a "falsehood," insisted that the bill would have no effect on black employment, adding that the Administration has backed the imposition of economic sanctions against regimes elsewhere, including Poland's.
"It's time we stop this double standard that we can light candles for those oppressed in Poland, but somehow it is economically wrong to strike a match for those oppressed in South Africa," Gray said.
Wednesday's vote came after Democrats beat back several Republican-sponsored attempts to water down the bill by either delaying implementation of the sanctions or eliminating some of them, such as the bans on Krugerrand and computer sales. Also rejected was a proposal by California Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Berkeley) to beef up the sanctions by requiring all U.S. firms to sell their holdings in South Africa and cease doing business in that country.
Loans, Computer Sales
The measure would not affect the status of existing U.S. corporate holdings in South Africa. However, once enacted, it would call an immediate halt to U.S. bank loans and computer sales to the Pretoria government. Backers argued that the government has used computers to enforce its racial separation laws and track political dissidents. About 70% of all computers sold in South Africa are American-made.
However, the bans on Krugerrand sales and on new investment by U.S. firms could be delayed for a year or more if Reagan could certify to Congress that Pretoria had begun to free political prisoners, end policies that restrict the political rights and civil liberties of blacks, or taken other steps that would eventually lead to the end of its apartheid system of strict racial segregation.
In House debate Wednesday, opponents argued that imposing sanctions would boomerang, resulting in economic hardships that would hurt blacks the most. "This is going to bring the worst hardship among those we are trying to help, the poorest of the poor," declared Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.).
But Gray, in opposing attempts to weaken his bill, insisted that Washington should take a moral stand. "It is time for us as a nation to put our values into action and move beyond the rhetoric of apartheid," he said. " . . . Do we stand with the victims, or do we stand with the aggressors?"