REFERRING to the impact of economic sanctions against South Africa, columnist William Raspberry wrote recently that ``... blacks may be hurt initially, but they are prepared to endure interim economic pain in the interest of long-term weakening of the economic structure that supports apartheid.'' No one bothered to ask Godfrey Nkwali, a black South African and father of four children, whether he was prepared to make such a sacrifice. Mr. Nkwali and his family are enduring the pain, economic and otherwise, resulting from divestment.
``I'm starving and can't get any jobs. ... Each and every day, I'm looking without no bus fare, home to town and from town back to home,'' Nkwali said, struggling to control his emotions. ``As a result, my family has left me, and my wife took everything - I'm not getting anywhere.''
Nkwali has been unemployed for over three years. He and some 5,000 other blacks lost their jobs in late 1985 when the Ford Motor Company closed its Port Elizabeth plant. The divorce rate among these blacks is high, and many blame divestment.
According to a staff economist with Johannesburg Consolidated Investments, by the year 2000 divestment will result in the loss of more than 2 million jobs, mostly by blacks. Furthermore, the economic downturn caused by sanctions will cause many blacks to lose promotions and opportunities for professional advancement.
Since Ford's withdrawal from Port Elizabeth, many of its former employees have been forced out of their homes and into the streets, unable to pay rents and mortgages. Julias Sitonti, a former employee, explained, ``Most of us have been called to court for not paying accounts ... [Former Ford workers] are also in arrears of their rents because of losing their job ... and once they are in arrears of rent they will be taken out ... they'll be detained ... they'll go and make some shack now, just for shelter.''
The Ford Motor Company denies responsibility for the loss of 5,000 jobs formerly held by blacks. Spokesman Joe Linman asserts that the plant in Port Elizabeth was closed when Ford's South Africa operation merged with another automaker, not as a result of Ford's divestment effort. To unemployed workers like Nkwali and Mr. Sitonti, however, ``merger'' and ``divestment'' mean the same thing.
``I can't even live now on what I am getting at the present moment,'' Sitonti explained. ``... What I had been getting at the Ford Motor Company [daily] is what I am not even earning now in one week's time.''
US divestment from South Africa has also cost blacks millions of dollars' worth of US-financed social programs.
Under the Sullivan Principles, a code of conduct established for US corporations operating in South Africa, US companies adopted ``social responsibility programs'' for black employees. Since Jan. 1, 1966, more than 100 US corporations have sold or closed their operations in South Africa. With those companies went many of the programs for disadvantaged blacks. As of last May, not one of the subsidiaries of the 84 Sullivan signatory companies that divested its South African holdings has, under new management, adhered to the Sullivan Principles.
Before its withdrawal, Ford, one of the original 12 signatory companies of the principles, financed black housing, schooling, and recreation and health facilities. According to a June 1984 company report, Ford provided $315,000 for building and setting up Port Elizabeth's first black technical college; it provided $535,000 for a black employee suburb; it donated $276,000 for a multiracial sports and recreation facility; and it provided $326,000 for constructing 16 low-cost houses for blacks, to mention only a few of Ford's programs.
Will sanctions work? One thing is certain: They're not working for the average South African black. Nkwali and tens of thousands of his fellow blacks didn't volunteer to give up their jobs and family incomes. They didn't volunteer to sacrifice the supplemental training, education, health, and recreation programs offered by US companies. They didn't ask for the kind of economic stress that has forced families apart and ruined their personal futures.
Nkwali had a good job and a happy family. They're gone, and he wants them back.
When offered the opportunity to send a message to the American people, Godfrey Nkwali responded simply, ``[The US] would help us if they could bring back their industrial [presence].... we're starving here in South Africa.''