UN: a wrong vote on South Africa

South Africa has once more been voted out of a United Nations General Assembly session in an episode of doubtful legality and undoubted hypocrisy. The practical diplomatic effect is to give South Africa one more excuse to obstruct elections in Namibia (South-West Africa) on grounds that the proposed UN supervision could hardly be impartial. Thus, with grating irony, the assembly majority undercuts UN efforts to meet such South African delaying tactics at the recent Geneva talks on Namibia. The UN offered to reduce nonmilitary aid to SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization) and to end its recognition of SWAPO as the "sole and authentic" representative of the Namibian people.

Now the assembly has begun debate on Namibia by excluding a major protagonist , the South Africa which rules Namibia contrary to UN mandate. Among those voting against the action were the United States and West European nations that have had key roles in Namibian independence talks.

They could cite articles from the UN Charter requiring Security Council recommendation for the General Assembly to suspend a member for enforcement reasons or to expel a member that has "persistently violated the principles of the present charter." South Africa does violate these principles, at least the one to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race. But so do many among the majority, including communist-bloc nations, which voted for its unseating. That is where the hypocrisy comes in.

As for the legality of their action, the assembly has never received the required recommendation from the Security Council. Nevertheless, as in the past , the South African delegates' credentials were judged invalid because they represented only the white minority in their country.

But they also represent the white government of South Africa, the only government it has the one with which the negotiations over Namibia have to take place. To keep talking with South Africa in every available forum is to satisfy not only realistic diplomacy but the universality of membership for which the United Nations ought to stand. And it is a better way to foster nonviolent change in South Africa than the proposed economic sanctions, which some argue for or moral grounds but to which South Africa has been making itself virtually invulnerable.

In this connection, it does no good to ignore the degree of change already occurring in South Africa even as the apartheid system fo racial discrimination remains entrenched. This month's inaugural session of the President's Council, a multiracial advisory body, was clouded by the criticism that it has no members of the black majority. But the council, charged with making recommendations for a new constitution, is remarkable in South African terms. It includes members with reputations for independence, and it has the option to consult the black leaders excluded from it. Like South Africa itself, the council ought not to be ostracized but encouraged to bring forward the best that is in it.

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