IF SOUTH AFRICA'S RACIAL POLICY is held in universal disdain by black Americans and Africans, the only development they'd like even less would be an extension of that policy. But that's what has happened with South Africa's establishment of several "independent" all-black states within its boundaries -- outcast territories unrecognized by either the United States, other African countries or hardly any country elsewhere.
Imagine, then, the dismay when, in early November, some persons in international circles here got word that a group of black Americans, including several from the Washington area, were planning to take an all-expenses paid trip to one of these new "national states" that had been set up under South Africa's hated apartheid policy.
The international specialists knew such visits by black Americans could be used by the well-oiled South African government propaganda machine to legitimize and make respectable to the world its widely denounced "solution" to its racial problem.
Nevertheless, the wheels moved incessantly last month to get rolling a big trip to the "Republic" of Bophuthatswana. It was organized by a black New York public relations man, Ted Cobb, for the "republic's" New York-based agent, Bophuthatswana International Ltd., with South Africa likely picking up the tab.
When five of the seven invitees eventually pulled out of the group, it was hastily restructured, with some of the new persons having only a day's notice before grabbing the plane.
The original seven invited were: Yvonne Price of the U.S. Conference on Civil Rights here; Theodore Hagans, a Washington businessman and president of the National Business League; Yovette Mumford of Baltimore, president of the Georgia Atlantic Shipbuilding Co.; Mal Goode of the National Black Radio Network; Charles Davis of Chicago, executive director of a trade association of black insurance companies; educator Katharine Sabers of Oakland, Calif., and John Mack, head of the Los Angeles Urban League.
When some blacks in the State Department heard about the trip, they pulled off their official hats and got busy applying moral pressure as just plain folks. Amelia Parker, a planning specialist, and Ambassador-at-large W. Beverly Carter spoke to several in the group. Randall Robinson, director of Trans-Africa, a black American lobby for Africa, tried to make others aware of the political implications.
Eventually all of the people in the original group backed out except Hogans and Mumford. Yvonne Price had to unpack her bags. Katherine Sabers had gotten as far as New York City but changed her mind after talking to Randall Robinson from a telephone booth. She was somewhat embarrassed to go home because she had been given so many nice bon voyage parties. Mal Goode said his African friends at the United Nations told him such a trip to such an illegal country would hurt his image.
As most of the original group dropped out, others were hastily recruited. Dr. Theodore Childs of Tuskegee Institute said he was asked the day before the group departed. "I went over as an independent, as a black American, to find out if the country was free. I was very impressed. We weren't there long enough to find out if there are economic ties to South Africa or what are the extent of them. I'm not 100 percent sold. I had one day to get ready and no one talked to me. I knew there were rumblings. I didn't know what they were. Nobody on the trip endorsed it."
But a member of Hagans' staff, Sylvester Bass, said it had been his job to gather information for his boss. "In the end, since it was a fact-finding trip, Mr. Hagans decided he would go and see for himself what the country was about and make a judgment upon his return."
As to whether their visit could be considered legitimizing an outcast government, Bass said his boss "did not receive information that would suggest to me that such a ramification was in evidence." He said they had received "no official" information but only "verbal, secondhand" statements from those who did not work on the State Department's South Africa desk.
The group returned from the trip to southern Africa last Thursday. Hagans was unavailable for comment but said through an aide that he would issue a statement later this week. Yovette Mumford said she would write up her trip for the Christian Science Monitor.
Nations using unwitting individuals to appear to endorse controversial policies is as old as the games of politics and propaganda. In the case of South Africa, its extremely sophisticated propaganda apparatus to gain approval for their outrageous movement of all blacks in South Africa away from where they live to where they came from generations ago grinds well and exceedingly fine. The blacks have no choice in the matter. It's an arbitrary decision being made for them by the government.
The policy of nonrecognition of the homelands is the good part of U.S. policy toward South Africa. For the most part, U.S. policy is unbeliveably bad -- claiming to abhor apartheid while it invests to the tune of $2 billion.
But for blacks, even unwittingly, to go against the policy of nonrecognition of the so-called national states within South Africa does not bode well. Says Robinson: "They are being used to dignify apartheid. It's not just happenstance that these people are black. They make a statement by their presence."