Sanctions and Apartheid

Economic sanctions hurt blacks more than whites and stifle reform impulses

SANCTIONS against South Africa are back on the congressional agenda. A bill for comprehensive, punitive sanctions with real teeth is before Congress. In 1986, Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act over President Reagan's veto. Now, three years later, an honest stock-taking is needed as a prelude to renewed debate.

There is little evidence that sanctions have played a determinant role in South African reform. Nor have reforms accelerated since the act was passed. In some ways, the reverse has happened. In 1985-86, the Nationalist government was moving toward releasing Nelson Mandela and scrapping the Group Areas Act as next steps. Both initiatives were delayed indefinitely when sanctions became law.

The reform program has made progress since 1986, and the sanctionists would assume credit for it. But evidence points to internal, not external politics as the driving force behind recent changes. The new reform initiatives promised by F.W. de Klerk for after the elections reflect the internal challenge of the new democratic party, not foreign pressure.

Sanctions have had several effects that form the policy environment for the 1990s, however. These include:

As a result of economic downturn, thousands of blacks lost their jobs. Documented increases in black hunger and malnutrition have appeared. White employment has not been much affected.

Economic stagnation limits government's ability to implement reforms. Growth in spending on black schools, which averaged 30 percent a year through this decade, will decline this year. Spending on other basic-needs programs will also likely be curtailed.

Sanctions forced disinvestment. The American corporate presence, a strong force for equality in the workplace, was emasculated. The Sullivan Principles are no longer the order of the day.

With disinvestment, physical plants and marketing systems were sold at fire-sale prices (30 cents on the dollar for Mobil Oil). White capitalists reaped windfall profits. Blacks will see increased unemployment and slower wage growth as foreign capital disappears.

South Africa is replacing United States economic ties with diversified economic contacts. Japan, Taiwan, Switzerland, and Germany are closing the gaps left by disinvestment. The Soviets are negotiating a commercial and diplomatic presence. US economic clout has been reduced, perhaps permanently.

Sanctions triggered major defections from the centrist National Party to the segregationist Conservative Party. While the Nats retain control, their mandate is weakened.

Finally, after the government had wrenched the reform program into being, sanctions were viewed as a vicious slap in the face. Afrikaners replaced dismay with renewed defiance. American influence suffered in the process.

To project the likely impact of new sanctions, one must understand the Afrikaner. The ``White Tribe of Africa'' is intensely proud, resourceful, independent, and stubborn. They have fought for their place in Africa for 300 years. They honestly feel that outsiders, who have not lived through their history, have little to offer to help sort out their future with the blacks.

Afrikaners still have a frontier mentality. Faced with a threat, they will cling together and go it alone if need be. They see sanctions as an unthinking response, given the progress they have made in dismantling apartheid. They survived the 1986 sanctions and feel they can do so again.

Imposing stronger sanctions at this time will likely lead to the following:

South Africa will write off the US as an effective partner in their search for solutions. They will turn to other nations for support.

Other nations will most likely not join the US in punitive sanctions. The US will stand alone, our policy discredited.

The reform program will slow to a crawl, not because the government is not trying but because most reform initiatives depend on a buoyant economy.

Moderate whites will have had their leaders' judgment found wanting by international opinion. This will further polarize the various political camps. A moderate government will have its ability to lead undercut.

In the extreme, comprehensive sanctions can possibly bring down the house, but not in this century. If this happens, control will most likely fall to the Conservatives, not to white liberals or to blacks. With it will go all hope of a negotiated settlement. Liberation will then be possible only with a prolonged struggle.

Tougher sanctions will cause added hardship. Whites, however, can partially insulate their incomes and welfare. With fewer options, blacks will bear the brunt of economic contraction. Some would count this sacrifice as an unfortunate, but legitimate, cost of freedom. The tragedy in this logic is that this cost is completely unnecessary.

Is there an alternative to sanctions? The only real option is moderation and support to the reform process now under way with National Party leadership. Mr. de Klerk has said that white dominance must end, that South Africa will have trouble achieving that goal in the face of foreign sanctions, and that blacks will have a direct vote within five years. He will very likely be elected president on that platform. Can we not take him at his word and then hold his feet to the fire for demonstrated performance?

Beyond this, can we help? Most of the changes that relaxed apartheid during the 1980s were only enabling, not empowering. Property rights for blacks mean little without capital. Job mobility for blacks is irrelevant if a flagging economy is not producing new jobs. Without education, black face a constricted future even without apartheid.

The critical need in the next five years is a massive program of black empowerment, providing the human and financial capital that will let blacks take advantage of their new opportunities and emerge into the mainstream of society.

Might not foreign assistance to black empowerment make a crucial contribution? Would not this be a legitimate part of a policy of moderation?

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