South Africa: Marshall Plan or sanctions?

WESTERN democracies, huddled at an historic juncture between South Africa's apartheid past and violent present, are trapped in a quandary: how to work toward racial equality while preserving essential economic relationships. Emotionally and morally inclined toward economic sanctions, the US Congress has effectively abandoned the Reagan administration's policy of ``constructive engagement'' which has produced no acceptable, or even noticeable, results. The real issue for Western policymakers is motivation. Are they playing to domestic political galleries, seeking to alter apartheid by moral indignation? Is the United States, mindful of former Rhodesia's transition, trying to align itself with the projected winners?

Economic sanctions generally employ three techniques: limiting exports, restricting imports, and blocking international financial transactions, including foreign aid, to the targeted country. A recent Institute for International Economics study has found that sanctions have been successful in only 40 percent of recorded cases. The study concluded that efforts to impair a foreign adversary's military potential or change its policies in other major ways generally fail.

How can sanctions influence a government which, since World War II, has endorsed a concept of national economic self-sufficiency in defiance of Western moral condemnation of apartheid?

It cannot be assumed that the ruling South African white minority, whose ``squatter's rights'' date back over 400 years and who have successfully dominated a fiercely contested land, will change their ways and bow to outside pressures. Externally imposed sanctions may very well retard potential progressive changes that could pull the South African economy out of its worst recorded recession. Forced to locally produce industrial machinery and high technology products presently imported, South Africa could develop manufacturing independence in much the same way as Pretoria's efficient armaments industry evolved. This internal ``siege economy'' mentality could result in heavy unemployment for South Africa's already disenfranchised black population and transfer the cost of such sanctions to neighboring black-African states with only a minimal impact on the Botha government's policy options.

If the West's motive is to provide realistic, positive opportunities for black South Africans, something more than sanctions is required. A more complete answer may lie in increased involvement. For example, Western democracies might design and fund a subsidized program of economic and technical assistance, administered through pre-selected international corporations. Each subsidized company would commit a major portion of its resources to ensure that the largest possible number of nonwhite South Africans were hired and granted the highest standard of living and professional opportunities. Western democracies could extend a positive, moral, and racially equal corporate ethos within this framework to a growing number of black South Africans.

Such a focused South African Marshall Plan, with its businesslike approach, would encourage adoption of positive Western values and offer blacks the benefits of career development on a major scale.

Corporate growth, local ownership, commercial education, and economic enrichment would provide concrete evidence of Western commitment to the future well-being of South Africa's black population while counteracting any appeal of Marxist polemics in African National Congress tracts and speeches. Implementing a policy targeted to practical needs would allow South African blacks more economic leverage to change their society from within by developing more professional alternatives and financial independence. Instead of relegating black South Africans to walkouts and strikes, this plan would enhance existing Sullivan Laws by realistic economic policies dedicated to racial equality and maximum employment.

The original Marshall Plan's achievement was to contribute the crucial element of confidence, more than dollars or credits or goods, to Europe's war-ravaged population. A similarly focused plan for South Africa's black population would also contribute confidence by encouraging economic opportunity and professional mobility. Such a policy would transcend the current violence, born of frustration and rage, and allow hope to flourish in a desperate land.

Michael Peck is a former US Senate aide.

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