Johannesburg — The major components of President Reagan's South African sanctions package formally come into operation here today. But they are expected to bring barely a ripple of reaction -- whether it be anxiety, anger, or even gratitude for their relative mildness.
The reason is not indifference to the threat of sanctions per se. Rather it is that the specific sanctions spelled out by Mr. Reagan in his executive order of Sept. 9 have already been accepted as a fait accompli by most South Africans.
Even the ban on the sale of Krugerrand gold coins, foreshadowed in the announcement but only made definite later, provoked little reaction. South Africans had assumed that a ban on sale of the coin would be imposed. The sharp decline of coin sales in the United States before the ban made the actual prohibition much easier for the financial establishment to bear.
The sale of gold coins has declined so sharply of late that official figures on the number sold are no longer published. The last published monthly figure -- May 1985 -- was under 58,000 against a monthly figure of 500,000 at the peak of the gold-coin sales in 1978-79.
Initial reactions in South Africa to Reagan's executive order have not changed. There is anger among politically conscious blacks that the sanctions were not more comprehensive, bewilderment and ire among conservative whites who had been told Reagan was South Africa's best friend, and relief tinged with concern from big business.
``I think President Reagan has done his very best to try and hold the ring against the extremists,'' says Gavin Relly, chairman of the powerful Anglo-American mining corporation. His statement reflects the views of many businessmen here.
``The effect, nevertheless, is to encourage everybody else to think that sanctions are respectable, says Mr. Relly. ``The psychological consequences are dangerous to us.''
Relly led a delegation of businessmen that met leaders of the African National Congress in Zambia last month, reflected the views of many businessmen when he said,
The immediate reaction of big business to Reagan's package was aptly summarized in the headline of an editorial in the respected journal, Finance Week: ``Thank you big daddy.''
But, as a senior financial commentator remarked in an interview, ``Once a Republican president has started to walk down the sanctions path, it makes it much easier for a Democratic president to go much further in the same direction.''