LONDON — The situation in South Africa is at a critical stage. Black leaders, who have been calling for the application of substantial sanctions for a very long time, are watching developments in the United States and Great Britain very closely.
President Reagan's speech in late July was deeply disappointing to blacks in South Africa, as it clearly has been to many others.
Over the last five or six years, constructive engagement or diplomacy has not moved the South African government. The Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group had concluded that the South African government was unwilling to negotiate in good faith. The outcome of British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe's visit to South Africa has demonstrated this once again in the clearest way.
Pretoria rejected the commonwealth group's negotiating concept. Further, the prospect of a united African leadership under a freed Nelson Mandela was becoming a probability as a result of our discussions. The South African government did not want that to happen. Its concept of the future is one in which political rights are exercised through racial groups, not individuals. If black leadership was fragmented, the government might earn some support for such racial concepts--perhaps from homeland leaders.
But a united African opposition would never agree to such views, and so a negotiation ceased to be of any use to the government of South Africa. For the commonwealth group to have continued our exercise against that background, against the bombing of neighboring states and the imposition of new and even more punitive internal measures, would have been pointless and counterproductive.
Unless the balance of forces in South Africa is altered, the Pretoria government will not negotiate or even seek to establish the environment in which negotiation could commence. That is why I have urged sanctions.
Sanctions are condemned because they would hurt blacks. But in some cases they patently would not hurt blacks. For example, a ban on air links with South Africa, freezing overseas bank accounts of South African individuals and companies and the removal of consular facilities except for one's own nationals would hurt whites, not blacks. But these alone would not be sufficient.
Virtually all black leaders, with the exception of Zulu Chief Mangosuthu G. Buthelezi, asked for substantial sanctions against South Africa. They know that these would hurt. But blacks suffer and die now as a result of the system of apartheid. If the black leaders judge that they should suffer more now so they may participate in their own government in the future, then that is their judgment. It is repugnant to me to find a paternal white judgment placed over theirs in their alleged interest.
In the absence of effective support--that is, sanctions--from major states in the West, the black leaders will conclude that, so far as the West is concerned, they are on their own. In the absence of effective action by the U.S. Congress, Reagan's speech will have confirmed this view to them.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which opens today, becomes even more critical. If British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher accepts the commonwealth consensus, action will be taken and the debate will move back to the United States. But failure to reach agreement on substantial sanctions will mean that the passage of legislation by the Congress may offer the only hope for Western influence in southern Africa.
The consequence of no action will be severe. If the United States and the United Kingdom persist in policies that have patently failed over the past five or six years, the black South Africans will take irreversible decisions to fight for political participation and freedom. In answer to the daily violence of apartheid, they will go for more guns and violence, which will lead to a full-scale guerrilla contest.
The blacks, with numbers and a sympathetic population, would win that contest--but over a period of 8 to 12 years and at great human cost. It is that contest that would really destroy the economy, not sanctions.
The emerging government would be pro-Soviet and anti-West; it would nationalize all Western commercial interests. That would be a sad reward for present inaction.
Sanctions are not an end in themselves. They are not an alternative to negotiations. But they represent the only path remaining to bring the South African government to negotiate the dismantling of apartheid.