`South Africa's No. 1 trading partner'

Murray L. Weidenbaum in an op-ed article on May 21 argues against eliminating US investments in South Africa. Weidenbaum is setting up and knocking down a straw man. No one in Congress proposes such an elimination. What do we propose? A far more limited economic discipline. Under legislation proposed in the House and Senate the US would continue to be South Africa's No. 1 trading partner and its second biggest creditor and investor. We would not disinvest. We would -- until South Africa began to rid itself of apartheid -- limit our increase in investment. It is important to understand that apartheid is not simply a system of racial discrimination such as previously existed in parts of the US. It is much worse. Apartheid consists of a complete system of political, social, and labor controls adopted in 1948 and maintained by South Africa's 4.5 million whites to ensure their absolute and capricious rule over 22 million blacks.

Black workers must live apart from their families. All blacks are required to live in segregated areas. They are denied political rights. The minority whites enforce their controls through reliance on an oppressive police rule backed up by a system of informants and the strongest military force in Africa.

South Africa's apartheid system has been in place for almost 40 years. Every American president since Eisenhower has condemned it and tried to persuade the South African government to change it. Despite the condemnations of apartheid by our presidents over the past 30 years, American corporations and banks have rapidly increased their involvement in South Africa. US corporate investment has risen twentyfold to an excess of $2.3 billion. Loans by American banks to enterprises in South Africa have swelled to $4.5 billion with amost $400 million in loans to the South African government itself. Our country has also become South Africa's largest trading partner. These actions, while taken in good faith, have strengthened the South African economy and its ruling white elite. To those black leaders looking desperately for help from our country as the world's citadel of freedom, it might appear that profits are America's only interest in South Africa. That is not the case.

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Mr. Weidenbaum contends that business as usual by American corporations in South Africa with voluntary adherence to the Sullivan Code of equal employment practices is the best means for us to follow in changing apartheid. I agree that American companies should not discriminate against black South Africans and my bill, S 147, makes adherence to the Sullivan principles mandatory for US companies operating in that country. But let's not kid ourselves that having our companies observe those principles is going to undermine apartheid. Only 128 of the 350 US corporations operating in South Africa adhere to the Sullivan principles and they employ only 70,000 of South Africa's 22 million blacks.

Fortunately, our choice in South Africa is not between business as usual and disinvestment. My bill S 147 and S 635, the bipartisan bill I am co-sponsoring with Senators Kennedy, Weicker, and several other colleagues, do not require American companies to withdraw the billions of dollars they have invested in South Africa. Nor do they prohibit our firms from reinvesting profits they make there or embargo our $4 billion trade with South Africa. They do prohibit new US investment in and bank loans to South Africa and also ban further imports of the South Africa Krugerrand, which is a major source of foreign exchange.

S 635 provides that the president may, with Congress's assent, waive restrictions for periods of not more than 12 months each time the South African government takes one of certain specified steps to ameliorate its repressive rule. All sanctions may be removed altogether if the president determines, and Congress agrees that South Africa has absolished its apartheid system.

The legislation described above is not only the right thing to do, but its adoption will serve America's interest far better than just continuing business as usual in South Africa and hoping for the best. Sen. William Proxmire US Senate, Washington

The article [``Borrowing from our children''] May 29 was excellent. Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm's analysis of the deficit and social-security system was most enlightening. It is true, as he said, that some people retiring on medicare are receiving 28 times as much in benefits as they have put into the system. He also points out that we are fooling ourselves if we think we are borrowing from the banks. We are borrowing from our children and grandchildren. He says, ``We inherited a rich country from our parents and we have bequeathed an encumbered country to our children.'' I wish all congressmen would take this to heart and be willing to cut the waste from America's government. Mrs. J. W. Taggart Rockford, Ill.

The May 13 article on the spreading desert in the Sudan calls forth concern and serious questions [``Drought edges toward Nile'']. In October 1983 the EPA warned of the serious consequences of the ``greenhouse effect'' caused by air pollution. In 1981 the space shuttle Columbia discovered a large plume of carbon monoxide drifting off the east coast of North America. This large plume combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, contributed to the ``greenhouse effect'' and drifted across the ocean. Is it possible that overuse of the automobile has helped cause the spread of the desert and famine in Africa? Samuel E. Stokes Jr. Alstead, N.H.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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