Sanc­tions fi­nally im­posed on SA by US for apartheid

Some key events from this week in his­tory are re­flected in the fol­low­ing re­ports from the archives of the Ar­gus’s 160-year-old ti­tles

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

FOR all the mis­giv­ings among some thought­ful South Africans about the in­ten­si­fy­ing sanc­tions against apartheid, by late 1986 there was no ques­tion that the prob­lem was not the hos­til­ity of crit­ics at home or abroad, but apartheid it­self and the ob­sti­nate in­tran­si­gence of those who de­fended it.

The Na­tional Party – and many oth­ers, in­clud­ing some of its po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents – had drawn false com­fort from the hos­pitable sen­ti­ments of Amer­ica’s Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and Britain’s “Iron Lady”, Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher, both of whom favoured what came to be called “con­struc­tive en­gage­ment” with Pretoria.

But pa­tience with the idea of nudg­ing the “apartheid regime” – as it was rou­tinely called by then – to­wards re­form was run­ning out.

In the first week of Oc­to­ber 1986 – a lit­tle more than a year af­ter PW Botha had sig­nally failed to cross the Ru­bi­con (as an em­bar­rassed For­eign Min­is­ter Pik Botha had pri­vately as­sured key al­lies that he would) – the pres­sure ratch­eted up with the news from Wash­ing­ton that Congress had swept Rea­gan’s veto aside and en­acted sanc­tions.

The re­port of Oc­to­ber 3 that year – “Sanc­tions: what SA is up against” – noted that this “puts the United States at the front of na­tions seek­ing to change apartheid”.

By then, other mea­sures had been adopted by the UN, the 12-na­tion Euro­pean Com­mu­nity (EC) and the 49 coun­tries of the Com­mon­wealth.

The re­port went on: “The new US mea­sures were im­posed by Congress yes­ter­day over the strong ob­jec­tions of Pres­i­dent Rea­gan.

“Here is a sum­mary of the mea­sures adopted: Ban on im­ports of South African ura­nium, coal, tex­tiles, iron, steel, agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, food, mil­i­tary equip­ment and am­mu­ni­tion; ban im­ports from com­pa­nies owned or con­trolled by the South African Govern­ment; end new US loans, in­vest­ments or other ex­ten­sions of credit to the South African public and pri­vate sec­tors; write into law and make per­ma­nent a pres­i­den­tial or­der ban­ning im­ports of Kruger­rand coins and pro­hibit­ing ex­ports of US nu­clear and com­puter tech­nol­ogy to Pretoria or its agen­cies; write into law ex­ist­ing UN arms and oil em­bar­goes, and six months af­ter en­act­ment, urge Mr Rea­gan to cut off US mil­i­tary aid to na­tions cir­cum­vent­ing the arms em­bargo; ter­mi­nate land­ing rights for South African air­craft; ear­mark $40 mil­lion (about R88m) for South Africans dis­ad­van­taged by apartheid and $4m (about R8.8m) for US schol­ar­ships; bar the US Govern­ment from buy­ing goods and ser­vices from South Africa and from pro­mot­ing trade and tourism there.”

Congress agreed to “al­low Pres­i­dent Rea­gan to lift some or all of the sanc­tions if Pretoria met four out of five con­di­tions, namely the re­lease of Nel­son Man­dela and other po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers; re­peal of the state of emer­gency; le­gal­i­sa­tion of all po­lit­i­cal par­ties; re­peal of Group Ar­eas Act and Pop­u­la­tion Reg­is­tra­tion Act; and hold ne­go­ti­a­tions with rep­re­sen­ta­tive black lead­ers”.

What few peo­ple knew in Oc­to­ber 1986 was that jailed ANC lu­mi­nary Nel­son Man­dela – then al­most cer­tainly the world’s most fa­mous pris­oner – had al­ready ini­ti­ated con­tact with PW Botha’s ad­min­is­tra­tion with a view to ex­plor­ing the op­tions for ne­go­ti­a­tions. It was an im­por­tant but some­what fit­ful ex­er­cise, and gen­uine talks would have to await Botha’s demise and FW de Klerk’s emer­gence as the man of courage and rea­son.

For both sides in the con­flict, the in­escapable truth of the mid-1980s was that they were locked in a stale­mate. Not many years later, his­to­rian Nigel Wor­den summed it up by ob­serv­ing that “the state had lost the ini­tia­tive but no one else had the power to seize it”.

The coun­try was in po­lit­i­cal limbo.

On Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 3, 1986, se­nior ed­i­tors at the Ar­gus felt con­strained to cau­tion read­ers against be­ing dis­tracted by the sanc­tions de­bate when the real topic that wanted ad­dress­ing was apartheid it­self.

In a leader head­lined “US sanc­tions and the na­tional de­bate”, the news­pa­per said: “The sanc­tions voted into law by the United States se­nate will start a chain re­ac­tion of con­sid­er­able im­pact on South Africa and be­yond. Aside from the po­ten­tial dam­age to the econ­omy, and the harm­ful con­se­quences to lives, jobs and wel­fare, they may well en­cour­age a hard­en­ing of po­lit­i­cal at­ti­tudes.”

But it went on: “Al­ready there is dis­may­ing ev­i­dence that the na­tional de­bate in South Africa has been dis­torted by the sanc­tions cam­paign. Rather than con­cen­trat­ing on re­form, many white South Africans not un­nat­u­rally are mus­ter­ing their pi­o­neer­ing spirit in an ef­fort to ame­lio­rate the more im­me­di­ate chal­lenge of sanc­tions.”

If this con­tin­ued how­ever (“with­out thought to the rea­sons why South Africa is be­ing pun­ished so”) “it could gravely re­tard the peace­ful dis­man­tling of in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism, which is at the ker­nel of the present prob­lems. It is a curse which only white South Africans have the con­sti­tu­tional power to ex­or­cise, and there is a lesser chance of them dong so while their at­ten­tion is di­verted to what many see as a na­tional strug­gle for sur­vival, or at least a for­eign chal­lenge to their na­tional self-re­spect.”

The most press­ing chal­lenge was some­thing else en­tirely.

“The real strug­gle ought to be to end what even Pres­i­dent Rea­gan, in his re­ac­tion to the se­nate vote, last night de­scribed as ‘a malev­o­lent and ar­chaic sys­tem to­tally alien to our ideals’.”


Ron­ald Rea­gan and Mar­garet Thatcher at the White House in 1988. The two saw eye-to-eye on South Africa but were pow­er­less to stop sanc­tions against apartheid es­ca­lat­ing.

The ris­ing tide of anti-apartheid sen­ti­ment in the US is re­flected in this cut­ting from the Vas­sar Col­lege stu­dent news­pa­per.

Ron­ald Rea­gan sup­ported ‘ con­struc­tive en­gage­ment’ with Pretoria.

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