LONDON — South Africa and its major U.S. and European creditor banks agreed here Thursday to an interim plan calling for repayment of $500 million of its multibillion-dollar foreign debt, bringing a technical end to the payment freeze that Pretoria imposed last September.
South African Finance Director Chris Stals, who headed the government team negotiating with representatives of 30 banks, hailed the agreement as "a major step" on "the very long road to normality" for South Africa.
The accord was reached despite last-minute appeals by three leading South African churchmen, including Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, that the banks refuse to deal with Pretoria and continue to use financial pressure to help push for the dismantling of apartheid.
Last August, in response to growing anti-apartheid activism at home and violent racial clashes in South Africa, major creditors led by Chase Manhattan and other U.S. banks refused to renew maturing short-term loans or to advance South Africa any new money. With its currency, the rand, depreciating rapidly on world money markets, Pretoria responded by declaring a moratorium on repayment of all maturing loans.