JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South Africa's largest trade federation today refused to meet with British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, saying he was the wrong man to negotiate an end to apartheid.
"But this is the kind of insensitivity we have come to expect from the British government," the Congress of South African Trade Unions said in a statement.
"The British government, typically arrogant, have now appointed a negotiator who appears committed in the main to staving off intensified international pressure on South Africa," the mostly black trade federation said.
The British foreign secretary, who arrived Wednesday, has been mandated by the 12-nation Common Market to press for an end to apartheid, South Africa's system of racial segregation under which 5 million whites dominate 24 million voteless blacks.
Britain, South Africa's biggest trading partner, and the United States oppose economic sanctions, saying such measures would lead to widespread suffering among blacks. Opponents say they would promote race reforms.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, which is allied with the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front, accused the two Western nations of having become "the strongest allies of this intransigent government."
Most black leaders in South Africa, including Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned black leader Nelson Mandela, have refused to see Howe, saying his trip was an effort to delay the imposition of economic sanctions.
Howe said he understood the doubts and suspicions of many South Africans. However, he said Wednesday, "talking can solve many problems . . . and violence few."
The British foreign secretary met today with a dozen people, including Sam Motsuenyane, chairman of the black businessmen's group, the National African Federated Chambers of Commerce; Murray Hofmeyr, chairman of the South Africa-Britain Trade Assn.; Helen Suzman, a legislator who opposes apartheid; Colin Eglin, head of the Progressive Federal Party, and Anglo American Corp. Chairman Gavin Relly.
Howe then left for Zambia. The African National Congress, the largest guerrilla group fighting to overthrow the South African government, has its headquarters in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
The British Embassy said Howe was not scheduled to meet with any ANC representatives. It said he would meet with Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, who has urged sanctions against South Africa.