An editorial interpolation in an interview with Mayor Andrew Young published in today's Washington Post Magazine, which was printed in advance, inaccurately states the circumstances of the imprisonment in South Africa of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in August 1964. He was held in the maximum security prison on Robben Island in Table Bay until April 1, 1982, when he was transferred to a prison on the mainland in Pollsmoor, South Africa.
WHEN HE WAS U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young was noted for his unconventional views of world events. Today, though mayor of Atlanta, he travels frequently to Africa and other Third World countries. He recently debated South African Foreign Minister R. F. (Pik) Botha on ABC's "Nightline" and testified before the U.S. Senate on the crisis in South Africa. In this interview with Washington Post Magazine staff writer Peter Ross Range, the mayor of Atlanta explains why he thinks businessmen hold the key to tranquility in South Africa, and why there may still be hope for harmony between the races.
Q. What should the United States be doing now about South Africa?
Andrew Young. We should be uniting the rest of the world in support of aggressive negotiations between the existing government and the government in exile, which is on Robben Island in prison -- a government of more than a thousand people that the South Africans have felt it necessary to arrest. It's not an all-black group. There's a significant white population, a colored population, an Indian population. South Africa can settle this whole issue by very simply agreeing to talk with the legitimate leaders of South Africa's majority.
Q: But the African National Congress is their Palestine Liberation Organization, isn't it? This would be like asking the Israelis to talk to the PLO?
Young: Except that the African National Congress never vowed to destroy white South Africa. They have advocated publicly a multiracial state. It's probably the first of the liberation movements. I think it goes back to 1916 (actually 1912). And they didn't advocate violence for a long, long time. Violence is still minimal against white South Africans. It's just beginning. We're in the midst of an escalating revolution.
Q: How did the South African government manage to tar the African National Congress as the awful, evil, violence-prone demon?
Young: The same way the Ku Klux Klan and the FBI targeted Martin Luther King as a communist. Theydidn't target (the African National Congress) first as violent; they targeted them as communist. Anybody that advocates a multiracial society is viewed as a communist.
Q: Is the ANC an underground movement now?
Young: The ANC is now a banned movement. The part of it that is operating externally openly advocates violence. I think they are operating out of Zambia. There's a big headquarters in London.
Q. Doesn't Nelson Mandela's recent refusal to accept amnesty (from imprisonment) reinforce in white minds the idea that violence is just waiting to happen if he gets out? (ANC leader Mandela was imprisoed on Robben Island in Table Bay from 1964 to 1982, when he was transferred to a mainland prison at Pollsmoor, South Africa). Young: Just in asking the question, you're accepting the fact that there is a certain legitimacy to a 15 percent group that happens to be holding power. There's no way by any 20th century standard of democracy and human decency that you can consider that a legitimate government. It hardly even qualifies as a civilized government.
What Mandela says is that (the blacks) are not creating the violence, the violence is being created by the government. If the government will renounce violence, he will renounce violence.
Q: But his definition of violence is the whole existing system.
Young: He didn't say that. It's not the system. It's the killings. There have been several hundred killings of blacks by the government this year. There have been very few if any killings of whites, by the so-called African National Congress or anybody else. So the violenin South Africa is government violence against innocent, unarmed citizens. They didn't say they would stop shooting children.
Q: You are above all a pragmatist, a man who's trying to think of a way to make things work.
Q: So how do you convince the Afrikaners . . .
Young: My position is that you don't convince them.
Q: . . . that a multiracial state means anything other than basically the end of their lives as they know it in South Africa today, as they've known it for 300 years?
Young: It probably will mean the end of their lives as they know it. But it hasn't been all that good. They are looking at the material features of that life. But they haven't been looking at the fact that they are an armed police state. They do live in fear.
Q: You testified before the Senate, "We sometimes make the mistake of arguing about final solutions to the race problem when it's enough to talk about next steps." What are your next steps?
Young: A starting point is that we are prepared to go to the United Nations to bring about the Chapter 7 sanctions, which is economic, among them. There has to be a lot of power mobilized theoretically against South Africa. The demand for change has to be very simple, very specific.
Young: Get out of Namibia. Allow the United Nations process of elections to be implemented. Set up a process of negotiation with your leadership (in exile) and release them from jail to operate as legitimate leaders of an independent country.
Q: How do we go about making the two parts of government in South Africa talk to each other?
Young: It has to be through direct action of the president of the United States. We're the only ones that can put together a settlement, or even a process for a settlement. The president of the United States is the only one that really has the moral authority. Now he's not using it, and doesn't understand the nature of that power, I'm afraid.
I think it's very dangerous for the U.S. to get into complicated situations like this alone. When I was at the United Nations, I set up the five western powers as a contact group. If I were doing it again, I would include Japan.
Q: Why are the Japanese important in this group at this point?
Young: Because any kind of sanctions cannot just include American companies. It has to include the European and the Japanese -- the developed world. You have to give the South African whites a choice: if you're going to be a part of the civilized world, you're going to act civilized. If you're not, we're not going to be a party to any business dealings that help keep you going.
Q: You're not talking disinvestment, are you?
Young: I encourage the movement of total divestment, I encourage protest. I'm 100 percent in favor of what (the Free South Africa movement) is doing.
But I don't think you ever get to total disinvestment.
Q: It's too counterproductive, or it's not doable?
Young: It's doable, and it would work! But it's not necessary. If you have power organized, you don't have to use it. It's in the absence of power that you have to do things drastically and excessively.
The one thing I think you might have to use is an airline embargo. It's possible to implement, it's effective, and it doesn't hurt any poor people. It doesn't really destroy the economy, it just puts an added burden on South Africa's ability to function.
Q: Why is that so important?
Young: Because of South Africa's distance. There are about 5- seats on 747s that leave South Africa every night going to Europe, Asia and America. People don't live in South Africa. They make their money in South Africa. They go away to live and to spend. They enjoy themselves in other places. So what you're doing (with an airline embargo) is adding a 60-day time to doing business. You make it almost impossible for any of their businesses to function.
Q: How big a deal do you think the $2.5 billion U.S. direct investment in South Africa is in supporting the system?
Young: Oh, it's a big deal. But it's even more powerful as leverage.
Q: In other words, a threat.
Young: Yeah, but the problem is, it's a very theoretical argument. Nobody in their right mind is investing money now, like nobody was investing in Iran a year before (the shah fell).
I liken South Africa now to Iran at the time of Carter's election. If we had known that three years into the administration, Iran was going to explode, we would have forced the shah into a constitutional monarchy. We would have worked out some power- sharing accommodation with the mullahs.
I'm acutely awareof this because a classmate of mine who had lived in the Middle East almost since we left seminary (in 1955) said to me, "If Carter is really serious about human rights, he'll start in Iran. Iran is going to explode before long."
I sent the memo to Carter. But I didn't pay any attention to it and neither did Carter. And yet all the signs wre there for people who really knew Iran. Now we're saying that for people who know South Africa, including South Africans themselves, the signs are there.
Q: Do you think the present Reagan administration policy of "constructive engagement" has any redeeming qualities?
Young: No. The way it's intended by Reagan and Chester Crocker (the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs) is quite different from the way it's been interpreted. From the time of sanctions against South Africa following (black activist) Steve Biko's death (in 1977), I don't think there was any killing of blacks by the government and a great decline in the number of people arrested. But when Reagan was elected and they announced the policy of constructive engagement, they started imprisoning people more rapidly and gradually they started killing people.
Q: You've said that the United States is perceived as a puppet of (South African Foreign Minister) Pik Botha and (State President) P.W. Botha. Where did you get that?
Young: Most of black Africa understands that South Africa interpreted constructive engagement as laissez- faire.
Q: How do you know this? Are you getting around?
Young: Oh, yeah. My daughter, Paula, is in Uganda. In April I was in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania. I met with the former head of state in Nigeria in the airport in Amsterdam -- Obasanjo. We arranged to have breakfast. Almost every African leader that comes to this country comes to Atlanta. The first thing they all talk about is how Reagan has sold out to the South Africans.
Q: How do you feel about the so- called petty things being changed now so that coloreds and Asians can own their own businesses?
Young: They've always owned businesses. An Asian friend of mine owns a department store in downtown Johannesburg. It's been in his family for four generations. They've just always had to pay some white person to front for them. But it has his name on it: Surtee's.
Q: Many people in the Free South Africa movement would consider these totally cynical measures designed to keep constructive engagement going.
Young: I think the South African motives are strictly self-interest, not humanitarian. There is nothing wrong with that. The private sector has a very strong role to play. Whenever they are ready to take on the government, they will prevail.
The Afrikaner Chamber of Commerce has called for an end to apartheid.
Q: Pik Botha on television complained that you have not been to South Africa in several years and don't know what is going on. He also referred to you as, "my friend, Andrew Young." What should we make of this?
Young: I try in my personal relationships to relate to (everybody) as though one of these days they're all going to be on the same side. The ultimate goal of the African National Congress is for people to live together. Right now we're dealing with a situation where they don't know how, and they're afraid to try.
Q: You mean you hedge against the day when you are no longer enemies?
Young: Yeah. The whites are not going anywhere (out of South Africa) and the blacks are not going anywhere. Even if they have a bloodbath for 20 years, after all of the blood is shed that can be shed, there are still going to be some white folk and some black folk that are going to have to learn to live together.
Q: There are those who say this bloodbath is coming, that it is too late to stop it, that the train has already left the station.
Young: I don't believe that. I don't think it helps to prophesy violence -- you fulfill your own prophecies. If you commit to violence, you do nothing. If you say that there is hope, you might do something about it.
Hope is the most powerful ingredient in the black community. It's more powerful than violence. Black folk believe they can prevail.