BY BAYARD RUSTIN
The Senate decision to override President Reagan's veto on sanctions against South Africa is an important step in clarifying a previously incoherent policy toward the Pretoria regime. Punitive measures will certainly contribute to strengthening our moral position and, it is hoped, enhance our badly tarnished image among South African blacks. But they alone are not enough. Economic pressure must be accompanied by a fundamental shift in our approach: U.S. policy can be effective only if our primary objective is to help foster the growth of democracy in South Africa, not merely to end apartheid.
Grasping this distinction is imperative. Americans must understand that if our interest is simply to abolish apartheid, then virtually any tactic and strategy will do, including the infamous "necklace." But if our goal is democracy and free association for all, then a strategy must be developed that is consistent with democratic ideals and practices. And it must be anchored on the supposition that, while the United States can help, the final outcome of the struggle is in the hands of South Africans of all races.
Far too many opponents of apartheid overestimate America's capacity to influence any sovereign state, especially one with the military and economic power of South Africa. This may be a difficult pill to swallow for a society psychologically geared to instant, "feel good" solutions. But there are no Hands Across America quick-fix treatments for the wounds of South African history. Even with the imposition of sanctions, the elimination of apartheid will be a long, arduous process, which, one hopes, can be achieved with limited violence.
But if time is an essential factor, it is also an impediment, given the escalating violence on all sides and the increasing extremism among South African whites and blacks. Hence, the United States must be prepared to implement and to maintain a comprehensive policy aimed at strengthening democratic institutions and supporting the education and training of what will be South Africa's postapartheid leadership. Without viable democratic structures like a bill of rights that protects individuals and minority groups as well, the eradication of apartheid might well lead to a system equally abhorrent. As history has taught us, the transference of power, even if initially based on the principle of one man, one vote, may not lead to a system that safeguards the civil and human rights of all.
What can Americans do to nurture democracy in South Africa? Despite the fact that there are literally hundreds of groups, many of them multiracial, most of them committed to peaceful and progressive change, the U.S. government currently spends a paltry sum to help them--about $15 million this year. All provide a range of essential services, such as health and child care, vocational training, labor mediation, housing, food distribution and education. Among them are trade unions, community associations, women's organizations and religious groups. Black Sash, with a membership of white middle-class women, provides legal aid to detainees and others persecuted under apartheid laws. Such grassroots organizations address the daily needs and hardships of the victims of apartheid. They help form the fragile foundation of democratic institutions, and our government must be prepared to greatly increase material and financial support to assist them.
The American people and nongovernmental agencies have a role to play as well. They need to become directly involved with these antiapartheid groups. Project South Africa, for example, acts as a liaison between organizations and individual Americans willing to provide these South African groups with technical, professional, financial and moral support. More one-to-one, hands-on efforts are needed. The victims of apartheid need to know that no matter what the U.S. government ultimately does, Americans are working directly with them and not just for a cause.
Union leaders: Aid must also be increased in the critical area of education. Our government, our universities, our private foundations and our community groups must be willing to at least quadruple scholarships for black South Africans, thus allowing them to study at American, Western European and South African universities. They must also expand programs to train black businessmen and entrepreneurs who will then have a real stake in ensuring a peaceful transition.
But the most potent vehicle for peaceful change in South Africa may be the black and nonracial trade-union movement. As South Africa faces a growing shortage of skilled workers, unions will gain greater leverage to promote political reform. Since a vital component of any democracy is a free labor movement, our government must now follow the example of American labor in helping to train black union leaders.*
The middle ground essential for peaceful change is rapidly eroding in South Africa. Black moderates like Archbishop Desmond Tutu are caught between an intransigent white regime and black extremists who advocate violence as the only means to abolish apartheid. In like manner, such polarization and the imposing of international sanctions have caused a great number of whites who had hoped for a progressive solution to close ranks with the Botha government.
Clearly some Americans will be impatient with an incremental approach to the South African problem. Others will argue that it is too costly, particularly at a time when the United States is decreasing rather than increasing foreign aid. Yet a policy that couples carefully selected and reversible punitive measures with a cogent program to promote democracy is the best way to use our limited leverage. It will show South Africans, black and white, that we are disengaging from a loathsome regime and committing ourselves to the democratic aspirations of the majority.
South Africa may remain one of history's most tragic episodes, no matter what we do. But without substantial economic assistance from the U.S. government and the good will of Americans, neither a relatively peaceful nor a relatively democratic solution is possible in South Africa.
Rustin is president of the A. Philip Randolph Educational Fund and chairman of Project South Africa.
(text of October 20, 1986 Newsweek article; also contained photograph of Bayard Rustin)
*-IN ORDER FOR VISITORS TO MY AWARD-WINNING WEBSITE TO UNDERSTAND WHY I ANNOTATE THIS AND SUGGEST A BRIEF SIDESTEP ABOUT MY "INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC WORK...ON A DIRECT BASIS" INVOLVING ENCOURAGING FREE TRADE UNIONS, I THINK THAT MUST BE PRECEDED BY CONSIDERATION OF THE PREFACE AND THE FOOTNOTE OF WHAT YOU FIND IF YOU TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE.
EQUIPPED WITH THAT KNOWLEDGE, TAKE YOUR NEXT FOOTSTEP HERE.