While congressmen and civil rights leaders were crossing police barricades at the South African embassy, black D.C. lawyers were fuming over a proposal by a committee of the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association to seek U.S. recognition for the South African government's "homelands" policy.
Hogan & Hartson partner Vincent H. Cohen recently gathered about 80 lawyers at his office to plot means of protesting the proposal, listed as a "priority item" by the division's legislative committee.
"It's using the ABA name to foster this concept," said Cohen. "It's an emotional thing, and at the meeting it wasn't even a subject of negotiation. Everybody felt that this was clearly out of bounds. It's just reprehensible."
In a prickly letter to ABA President John Shepard, Cohen describes the action as "akin to the American Bar Association supporting Hitler's 'final solution to the Jewish problem.' "
The South African government has set aside portions of the country as homelands for the country's black population under its apartheid policy of racial segregation.
Critics argue that under homelands, blacks are being relegated to largely barren and jobless land, although they comprise an overwhelming majority of the population.
Successive U.S. administrations have refused to recognize the homelands.
David E. Short, chairman of the legislative committee of the young lawyers division and an advocate of recognition for the homelands, describes the protest as "a very minor reaction."
"Conditions for everyone in South Africa, regardless of race, are better than in other countries in Africa," said Short, of Short, Klein & Karas here.
"I think that's proven by the fact that 1.5 million workers come from neighboring countries to work in South Africa. If conditions were that bad, blacks would be fleeing to those other countries and not the other way around."