The Sanctions Can Go

South Africa's government has met the conditions laid down in the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, so President Bush is free to act

THE African National Congress's recent ultimatum to the South African government to either fire Minister of Defense Magnus Malan and Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok or face a termination of dialogue, may have been an attempt to forestall the repeal of United States sanctions. Over the past 18 months, South Africa has instituted unprecedented political reforms. The European Economic Community (EEC) acknowledged these advances when it decided to rescind all of its sanctions against South Africa (except the arms embargo) on April 15. Fearful that the US may follow the EEC's lead, the ANC appears to have devised a strategy for delaying action on sanctions in Washington.

The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (CAAA), passed in 1986 over President Reagan's veto, specified that punitive economic measures against South Africa could be lifted if the South African government took five of six specific actions:

* Released "all persons persecuted for their political beliefs or detained unduly without trial and Nelson Mandela from prison";

* Made progress toward dismantling the apartheid system;

* Implemented any three of the following four reforms: (1) agreed to enter into good faith negotiations with members of the black majority without preconditions; (2) unbanned all democratic parties and allowed all South Africans the right to freely express political opinions; (3) lifted South Africa's state of emergency and released all people detained under such state of emergency; and (4) repealed the Group Areas Act and the Population Registration Act.

Much to the dismay of the ANC, the South African government has now met the five conditions, allowing President Bush to terminate all of the sanctions under CAAA, should he choose to do so. The requirement to release people imprisoned for "political beliefs" has been fully met. The wording chosen by Congress for this provision was significant. The law sets the release of all people imprisoned for their "political beliefs" as a precondition for repeal of sanctions rather than release of all "political pr isoners."

There is a world of difference here: People arrested for their "political beliefs" include individuals detained for belonging to banned or restricted political organizations or for participating in political activities, such as nonviolent consumer boycotts and peaceful rallies and demonstrations. All prisoners of this nature have already been released.

The term "political prisoner," on the other hand, can have any number of definitions. The ANC has insisted that "political prisoners" include even arsonists and murderers, as long as they were members of the ANC or other black groups and there was a "political motive" for the crime. Congress recognized the difference between the types of prisoners when it singled out Nelson Mandela for release from prison (in addition to people imprisoned for their "political beliefs").

THE condition of significant progress in dismantling apartheid has also been met. In the past 18 months alone, prominent opponents of apartheid have been released from prison after decades of incarceration; the Separate Amenities Act, one of the cornerstones of petty apartheid, has been abolished; the bans on anti-apartheid groups and their political activities have been lifted; the state of emergency has been abolished; the ban on mixed-race political parties scrapped; and negotiations for the creation of a new, nonracial South Africa have been opened.

The South African government agreed to join in negotiations (without preconditions) with the ANC and other "truly representative" black organizations shortly after Nelson Mandela's release from prison over a year ago. This alone would have been enough to establish prima facie compliance with the third CAAA condition, but the government went further by ratifying a number of accords with the ANC, demonstrating that it was in fact negotiating in "good faith."

The recent ultimatum by the ANC to terminate dialogue was a tacit admission that genuine negotiation is already underway. The ANC may have hoped that by threatening the process they could forestall congressional repeal of the CAAA. What they threaten to do instead is deal themselves right out of the negotiation process.

Last February, South African State President F. W. de Klerk legalized 60 banned and restricted organizations, including the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress, the South African Communist Party, the United Democratic Front, and the Azanian People's Organization. All are free to hold rallies and engage in "nonviolent" political activities.

South Africa's five-year-old nationwide state of emergency was lifted last summer.

Repeal of the Population Registration and Group Areas Act is the only provision of the CAAA that has not been fulfilled. However, the law also does not require that it be met for repeal of punitive measures, as long as all other conditions have been satisfied. Still, progress has been made: In March, President De Klerk submitted legislation to the South African parliament that would not only abolish the Group Areas Act (1936), but also the Black Land Act (1913), the Development Trust and Land Act (1936) , and the Black Community and Development Act (1984). Repeal of the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act is expected this summer.

Bush should not fall prey to ANC strategies for moving the "goal posts." To do so at this late stage would not only be blatantly unfair, but would also needlessly bring greater economic hardship to black South Africans and dim the prospects for continued political and economic reform.

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