S. Africa shelves law banning foreign aid to opposition groups

South Africa is apparently backing off from imposing strict controls on foreign funding of opposition organizations, largely because of outside pressure. The proposed legislation, which was introduced into Parliament last March, would have prohibited receipt of external money for political purposes. The bill was seen as a further crackdown on groups fighting Pretoria's segregationist apartheid policies, as many are dependent on contributions from abroad.

(President Pieter Botha had said the new law would ``restrict the flow of funds from abroad to be used for undermining the state and promoting extra-parliamentary politics.'')

Coming on the heels of the government's effective banning of 17 anti-apartheid organizations on Feb. 24, the move caused an international outcry. Numerous countries - notably West Germany and the United States - made it clear they would have a hard time opposing domestic demands for comprehensive sanctions against South Africa were the bill passed.

As a result, the legislation quietly is being shelved in favor of a funding disclosure bill similar to that of the US, government insiders say. Opponents of wide-reaching punitive measures against Pretoria - such as those currently being debated in the US Congress - contend there is a lesson to be learned.

``The moral of this story is that South Africa's major trading partners still have clout,'' says David Dalling, a Progressive Federal Party member of Parliament. ``But it is precisely because they haven't imposed sanctions - and therefore could threaten such action - that the government was swayed.''

To be sure, supporters of sanctions maintain that while the US and West Germany may be able to influence individual issues, they are unable to push Pretoria toward dismantling apartheid. Only mandatory, comprehensive sanctions that would isolate South Africa economically and diplomatically will force the government to change, advocates of such measures insist.

The Promotion of Orderly Internal Politics Bill, as the proposed legislation is known, could have closed down dozens of opposition organizations. Western diplomats estimate that anti-apartheid and human rights groups received at least $250 million in foreign donations last year.

European governments feel especially strongly about their contributions here. A West German diplomat explains that these ``positive measures'' are in lieu of comprehensive sanctions that Portugal, Great Britain, and West Germany - alone among the European Community's 12 nations - opposed. Thus, instead of acting against Pretoria, the EC tries to help apartheid's victims, the diplomat says.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, West Germany's foreign minister, minced few words when he recently warned about the possible funding cutoff. ``Whoever wants to hinder these [positive] measures must know that he is pitting himself against the 12 EC countries.'' (West Germany currently presides over the EC.)

The diplomat says the West German ambassador also warned Pretoria that the bill's enactment could provoke, among other things, a cutback of South African diplomatic personnel in West Germany and the imposition of visa requirements on visiting South Africans.

A spokesman for the US Embassy here declined to outline its initiatives. But government insiders here say US envoys indicated that its passage could boost support for tougher sanctions legislation currently pending in the US House of Representatives. The bill includes a prohibition against investment in South Africa; a halt in trade; bans on intelligence and military cooperation between the two countries.

The message seems to have gotten through. Scared by the sanctions threats, senior members of the ruling National Party on the Parliamentary committee investigating the funding bill apparently decided to put it aside and draw up one that instead would require nonprofit organizations to disclose all foreign contributions and to have audited accounts.

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