NAIROBI, Kenya — Secretary of State George P. Shultz told openly skeptical Africans on Saturday that the U.S. policy of "constructive engagement" toward South Africa calls for contacts with black nationalist groups as well as that country's white-led minority government.
At a press conference after his talks with Kenya's President Daniel Arap Moi, Shultz was challenged to say if "constructive engagement is still your policy."
Shultz did not flinch, although most U.S. officials try to avoid the term, coined to describe the Reagan Administration's attempt to influence the South African government through diplomacy instead of confrontation.
"The way to implement policies is you are there--you don't just throw up your hands, you stay there," he said. "You are, if I may use the term, engaged. We try to be engaged with everybody. . . .
Hopes to Be Constructive
"We hope that our action will be constructive," he said.
Shultz, who plans to meet later this month in Washington with Oliver Tambo, head of the African National Congress, said that the United States hopes to be engaged with black nationalist groups such as the ANC, mixed-race Coloreds and Indians. Almost as an afterthought, he concluded his list with "the whites there who, after all, are African."
Senior Administration officials have conceded that the Pretoria government of President Pieter W. Botha stopped paying much attention to U.S. diplomacy after Congress enacted tough economic sanctions over President Reagan's veto. Outside experts have said the sanctions marked the end of the "constructive engagement" policy which had been all but abandoned earlier.
But Shultz said that the United States is determined to make clear its opposition to apartheid and to try to encourage creation of "a different kind of system that allows all the human beings there to take part in governing the country."
It was Shultz's first open press conference on his six-nation African tour, now at its mid-point.
Hostile Questions Asked
He was peppered with frequently hostile questions from African journalists. One demanded to know if the reason for sharp cuts in U.S. foreign aid to Africa was "racism or economics."
Shultz replied by citing U.S. budget stringency which he said forced deep cuts in almost all foreign policy programs.
"If you think you have troubles here, you should see our troubles with our budget," he said.
Shultz included only countries with a pro-Western foreign policy for his African trip, which began with stops in Senegal and Cameroon before his arrival in Kenya. He plans to go to Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Liberia.
His meetings with government leaders have been held in private and, if he heard criticism of U.S. policy toward Africa, neither he nor his hosts have said so in public.
In Kenya, Shultz described his meeting with Moi as friendly and constructive. But the local press used his visit to vent its complaints about Administration policy.
Chided by Editorial
The Daily Nation, the country's largest circulation newspaper, said in an editorial, "Worse than inattention, the U.S. government and its principal Western allies have gone out of their way to defy Africa's collective will in one of the most contentious areas of the world, namely Southern Africa. . . . As everybody knows, Pretoria's refusal to let Namibia go and to liberate South Africa's own black majority from the yoke of apartheid is predicated almost totally on the knowledge . . . that Washington, London and Bonn will not do anything serious to threaten the policies of apartheid. Can Mr. Shultz, despite his apparent humanism, escape this general indictment?"
Asked at his press conference to comment on the editorial, Shultz said change in South Africa will depend on the action of South Africans, not the wishes of outside powers.
"We aren't capable of telling people what to do, nor is London or Bonn," he said.
Shultz planned to take today off for a day of wild animal watching at the Masai Mara game preserve.