U.N. AMBASSADOR Jeane J. Kirkpatrick violated official U.S. policy by talking to five high-ranking South African intelligence men earlier this month, but she didn't even receive an official slap on the wrist. By contrast, when Ambassador Andrew Young broke America's rule about not talking to representatives of countries whose policies we may not like by meeting the Palestine Liberation Organization, he was practically pistol-whipped and drummed out of the United Nations building.
Why such different treatment for two officials "guilty" of similar infractions?
Maybe it's because nobody cared enough -- clearly the administration didn't care about outraging 26 million American blacks and most of the African continent. Maybe even blacks themselves haven't cried loudly enough soon enough.
Maybe it's because Jews are potent and quick to react when the interests of Isreal are threatened, quick to use the levers of power, while blacks neither control the levers of power nor use them frequently enough.
Maybe it's because Kirkpatrick is in basic agreement with the Reagan State Department while the Carter State Department had long disliked Young's efforts to prod a major rethinking of American policy toward Africa at the same time he touted a different policy toward the PLO.
Maybe it's because America has always paid lip service to opposing South Africa while supporting it with its institutional pillars, such as $2 billion in lending capital and full diplomatic relations.
Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, a lobbying group, challenges the view that blacks haven't expressed their outrage at Kirkpatrick's meeting and the Reagan administration's overtures to South Africa in general. "Every black I have talked to is furious," says Robinson. (The Congressional Black Caucus and the American Baptist Churches Black Caucus have called for Kirkpatrick's immediate replacement.) "The media just is not responsive when we speak out. We don't control the use of power because we're not allowed to."
But I think black Americans must increasingly make themselves heard on South Africa. They've not made enough noise partly because they're not yet aware of the tremendous implications, and only a few major newspapers have bothered to write about the changing U.S. foreign policy. Blacks must get together on the African question because Reagan seems to be edging toward a major turn in U.S. policy despite some softening signals over the weekend.
That turn would be important because a government that supports a separatist regime abroad will find it easier to justify racial repression at home. That turn is important because Nigeria won't hesitate to use oil as a weapon with America the same way it use it with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when she tried to lift the sanctions on Zimbabwe in the spring of 1979. That turn is important because it is in the self-interest of the United States not to jeopardize the 950,000 million barrels of oil we import daily from Nigeria, our second largest supplier of foreign oil.
The U.S. policy seems to be tilting toward mineral rights over human rights. The conservative men and women now in power see South Africa as a friendly ally because of its concern over Soviet expansion in Africa. At the same time they view it as making an honest effort to resolve its problems of apartheid. That's like saying the Germans were trying to resolve their race problem by building Buchenwald.
That the alliance between President Reagan's men and Prime Minister Botha's men is tribal is clear as crystal from the people Reagan has gathered around him. The law firm of John Sears, once Reagan's campaign manager, is now receiving a reported $500,000 annually to lobby on behalf of South Africa. Ernest W. Lefever, assistant secretary of State for Human Rights, is an advocate of closer U.S. alliance with South Africa. The Wall Street Journal has identified Richard V. Allen, Reagan's foreign policy adviser, as once having worked for the overseas companies of Portugal and "became a Washington advocate of white colonial rule in America." And the administration's courting of Jonas Savimbe of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) can only be read as being further divisive of the African people.
Part of the Reagan administration's explanation for its courting of South Africa is that it's in the interest of its major campaign against terrorism. But that argument can be taken to its logical conclusion to show that the South Africans themselves are the terrorists. The South Africans have invaded Mozambique and Angola, bombing southern Angola in recent days. Their police forces and military people are in northern Namibia performing grisly tasks.
But I have heard no criticism from this administration. The United States pledged start-up aid to Zimbabwe the other day and President Reagan said Friday that he intends to see a peaceful solution to to Namibian conflict. But previously, the administration's response to South African aggression has been to consider extending to the South Africans the ultimate in official American hospitality -- an invitation to Prime Minister Botha to come to the White House. What an insult to black Americans even to consider such an invitation to the leader of the only country in the world that has enshrined racism constitutionally by denying people the right to participate in the political process based simply on the color of their skin. How unthinkable it should be to extend American hospitality to the most heinously repressive regime since Nazi Germany.
Randall Robinson and others like him say they are prepared to go to any length to see that no tilt occurs in U.S. policy toward South Africa at the expense of black Africa.
Despite the fact that the Reagan administration is still developing its policy on Africa, it's hard to read these early overtures to South Africa as anything less than a callous disregard for the yearnings of black people. It also can be taken as a signal that blacks are going to have to manipulate the levers of powers and use them to survive.