Ablitzkrieg of last minute legislative activity by the South African parliament has largely fulfilled President F. W. de Klerk's five-month-old pledge to eradicate the remaining legal remnants apartheid.
The recent repeal of the Group Areas Act, the various Land Acts and the Population and Registration Act, together with the ending of the state of emergency, the release of most political prisoners and the return old exiles seemingly substantiates Mr. de Klerk's claim that he is laying the foundation for a "New South Africa." It has presented President Bush with the unenviable political challenge: Has the time finally come for the U.S. to lift sanctions against the Pretoria government?
For many in Congress, the answer is undoubtedly yes. South Africa, they maintain, has met the conditions for the easing of sanctions as spelled out in the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.
For others, the lifting of sanctions is premature given that, for the majority of the black population, fundamentally little has changed in South Africa. What position the president takes depends greatly on his perception of the proper role of the United States in fostering a transition to a non-racial, democratic South Africa.
After careful consideration, and mindful of the measures taken by Mr. de Klerk, Mr. Bush should elect to continue sanctions against South Africa. It is the only course that is consistent with America's enduring democratic values.
While the consequences of the president's decision are obviously important to South Africa, the debate over when to lift sanctions also has serious international ramifications.
The Japanese have vacillated from stating they will lift sanctions when the U.S. does, to plotting strategies to easing restrictions on the value of trade with South Africa. Although the European Community has lifted virtually all of its restrictions against the present government in Pretoria.
The Organization of African Unity had its unanimity on the sanctions issue shattered for the first time in its history. Among others, Kenya, Madagascar and, surprisingly, Nigeria argued that the time had come to lift sanctions against South Africa so as to keep the economic and diplomatic initiatives regarding Pretoria firmly in the hands of Africans. Zimbabwe, and both Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress and Clarence Mokwetu of the Pan Africanist Congress, among others, argued the necessity for maintaining sanctions in an effort to force Mr. de Klerk to negotiate in good faith.
Troubled by the political erosion among African countries, the OAU's secretary-general, Salim Ahmed Salim, voiced his concernthat the organization's credibility was being undermined by the "growing number of African countries [which] are pursuing relations with Pretoria."
A compromise was finally reached whereby sanctions were retained, papering over the serious differences existing within the OAU. In its communique following the three-day meeting, the OAU stated that "should the South African government adopt measures which lead to positive, profound and irreversible change towards the abolition of apartheid, we commit ourselves to review the question of sanctions with a view to re-admitting South Africa into the international community."
In truth, as with any political transition, the issue in South Africa continues to be one of control. When apartheid is gone and a new government established, who will be in control? Will it be a government arrived at through an honest and open negotiating process, or a government that is the end result of manipulation and political intrigue? And what role should U.S. policy play in these weighty decisions which affect a nation's future?
In essence, these questions were answered with the passage of the 1986 anti-apartheid act. The legislation stated that the purpose of the sanctions was to "bring an end to apartheid," and to "lead to the establishment of a nonracial, democratic form of government."
To many, Mr. de Klerk's various intiatives have largely brought an end to apartheid and set in motion a process which will lead to a pluralistic government. Yet, Mr. de Klerk's reforms have cost him considerably among white voters. The lifting of sanctions is necessary, some argue, to shore up Mr. de Klerk's flagging support and demonstrate that the actions he has taken will generate positive benefits to whites.
But for those who wish to retain sanctions against South Africa, the issue is the perception of Mr. de Klerk's dilatory and equivocal responses to the various concessions which blacks have made. Equally troubling are the efforts by some in his government to foster disunity, dissention and violence in the black townships.