Move to end sanctions is start of new struggle


September 28, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

Two signs sit in front of West Baltimore's Bethel A.M.E. Church, one of the oldest African American churches in the country. One sign says, "Free South Africa." That sign seems to have been there for as long as I've been in Baltimore: nearly 20 years.

The other, featuring the colors of South Africa's African National Congress, reads, "Abolish Apartheid. Keep Sanctions." As far as I can tell, it is brand new.

Here's the irony: The older sign is still relevant after all these years. The struggle for freedom for black South Africans continues despite breathtaking progress toward the dismantling of apartheid and the establishment of a new constitution guaranteeing South Africans of all races the right to vote.

The other sign, however, is either obsolete or a gesture of defiance.

On Friday, Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, called for an end to all economic sanctions against South Africa.

"To strengthen the forces of democratic change, and to help create the necessary conditions for social progress, we believe that the time has come when the international community should lift all economic sanctions against South Africa," said Mr. Mandela.

World and national leaders moved to restore economic and political ties with South Africa almost immediately after the speech. But for men and women such as Bethel's congregation, the transition to a post-sanction world is not so easy.

Economic sanctions were concrete and effective and they were imposed after a broad-based, multiracial, grass-roots effort. Many of the national leaders who applaud Mr. Mandela's call never wanted sanctions imposed in the first place.

Ordinary citizens pressured their local governments, universities, and pension plans not to invest with any firms doing business in South Africa.

An estimated 30 states, 109 cities, and 39 counties have adopted divestiture plans since the 1970s, including Baltimore and Maryland.

Now, despite Mr. Mandela's call, it is hard to reverse that effort.

At Bethel, for instance, the sign calling for sanctions to be maintained appears to have gone up after Mr. Mandela's speech. Church members referred all questions to pastor Frank M. Reid 3rd, who was out of town yesterday.

But one member, who asked not to be identified, noted: "Sanctions have been our posture since the beginning of the anti-apartheid movement. We respect Mr. Mandela but some of us are afraid he may be calling for the lifting of sanctions too soon."

"It will be very difficult for many Americans to shift gears to the second phase of the battle," acknowledges Dumisani Kumalo, project director of the American Committee on Africa. "The struggle now will be against the legacy of apartheid: housing, education, job training. For Americans, the second phase is to work to insure that when reinvestment begins, it is done in a way that builds up communities. We don't want businesses to return and just rip people off."

"Give us the benefit of your expertise -- especially in education," says Paul Jacobs, a black South African who serves as first secretary at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. "One of our needs is for children to obtain preparation for school, much like your Head Start program. We believe that only an educated work force can sustain democracy." Many of those links are beginning to form already.

I belong to a committee of the National Association of Black Journalists that is seeking to raise money for scientific equipment for an impoverished school near Johannesburg. The National Forum for Black Public Administrators has established a leadership training effort, where black South Africans participate in a mentorship program with civil servants here.

Recently, Ben Chavis, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his group planned to establish its first international chapter in South Africa.

"We do not want Americans to fold their hands because we have called for an end of sanctions," says Henry Nkosi, of the Washington office of the ANC. "Mr. Mandela's call was not the end of our struggle, but the beginning of the fight against the legacy of oppression."

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