AFTER sanctions, what? Congress has now passed a modest package of sanctions against South Africa. And it may yet override President Reagan's expected veto.
Sanctions make moral and practical sense, in our view. But they are unlikely on their own to bring about the goals they seek: an end to harsh government repression, dismantling of the apartheid system, and a prompt transition to majority rule.
We propose four strategies to accompany whatever sanctions the United States and other countries may apply. All have the potential to effect significant change.
Support the aspirations of the powerless.
South Africa will be neither a just nor a stable society until all its inhabitants are granted citizenship and all its adult citizens are given the right to vote. The current government is clearly unwilling to make the minimum reforms required. Outside efforts to ``reason with the powerful'' are therefore doomed unless complemented by efforts to encourage empowering those denied a voice in national politics.
An empowerment strategy should include highly visible, official US support for those Africans imprisoned for advocating basic political rights for all South Africans.
The American ambassador should visit Pollsmoor Prison and ask to speak with Nelson Mandela. If authorities turn him down -- as seems likely -- the ambassador should return on a weekly basis with the same request.
US officials should visit other sites where less well-known political prisoners are held, attend the trials of these prisoners, and sponsor in absentia awards to some of them. High-ranking officials of the American and other embassies should attend some of the important funerals in the black townships. Such funerals are now highly significant political events.
These actions could be discounted as ``merely'' symbolic. But symbolic acts, at crunch points in history, have a way of becoming substantive deeds as well.
American corporations in South Africa should set up legal defense funds for employees willing to challenge racially discriminatory laws.
A special committee of the American Bar Association should seek to visit South Africa to monitor the treatment of political prisoners and to consult with local lawyers working for human rights.
American labor leaders recently visited South Africa to check the state of labor unions and imprisoned labor leaders. American and other Western labor officials should attempt such visits on a regular basis.
Outside South Africa, the US government should openly and regularly communicate with the exiled leadership of the African National Congress.
Address the fears of the powerful.
The regime abuses power in part because its leaders fear losing power. Unless that concern is confronted -- and at least partly allayed -- the leaders' determination to monopolize political power will likely remain strong.
An important element in white South African psychology is the perception that South Africa would slide into economic depression and anarchy if black Africans were ever to take power.
A helpful role for the US -- through programs sponsored by the US Information Agency -- would be to publicize to white South African audiences the all-too-neglected instances of relatively successful development in Africa. Three of what are numerous examples:
1. The positive performance of African agriculture in Zimbabwe and Malawi.
2. The quite harmonious pattern of race relations in countries with relatively large white communities, such as Zimbabwe, Kenya, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast.
3. Imaginative efforts to reduce ethnic and regional tensions in Nigeria.
Assist in the transfer of power.
It seems only a matter of time before a constitutional convention will be called at which the contending parties will engage in hard bargaining about the shape of the new, post-apartheid political order.
What could the US do to help bring about this development sooner rather than later? President Reagan should invite President Pieter W. Botha and ANC leader Nelson Mandela to Camp David so that they could informally and privately discuss ways out of the current tragic impasse -- in a setting outside South Africa. Mr. Reagan should also invite the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group to plan the agenda and moderate some of the sessions. In this way, the US and the Commonwealth could coordinate diplomatic initiatives, with greater likelihood of success than if either acted on its own.
Increase the benefits to all South Africans of making the transition to majority rule.
In the current pretransition phase, the US should discuss with the contending parties what assistance -- if any -- might be most useful after some form of electoral democracy is adopted and outside sanctions end.
For example, American corporations, foundations, and universities might well expand their training and scholarship programs. The US Agency for International Development might focus on the development of impoverished rural areas.
Especially important would be discussions with that group which feels it has the most to lose from transition: the Afrikaners. The huge bureaucracy enforcing apartheid regulations will have to be dismantled, and many white officials will lose their jobs. Americans should offer to help retrain these individuals for productive employment in the private sector.
President Reagan's pronouncements on South Africa do not provide evidence that he understands the nature and magnitude of the issues, or that he is willing to exert US influence in a progressive direction. Still, Mr. Reagan has shown that he is capable of compromise when pushed. On South African issues, Congress and the American people are far ahead of the President. At the end of the day, Mr. Reagan may find himself repeating what that anonymous man in the French Revolution said: ``The people are in the streets. I must see where they are going, for I am their leader.''
David Abernethy is a professor of political science at Stanford University. Peter Grothe is director of the International Student Office and on the faculty of the Monterey (Calif.) Institute of International Studies.