The Alexandria City Council last night unanimously approved a resolution condemning the apartheid system in South Africa and ordering the council's staff to determine whether its retirement and pension funds are invested in any U.S. corporation doing business in that country.

The matter was brought before the council by the Alexandria Human Rights Commission, which on Jan. 15 condemned South Africa's racial policies that deny political rights to its black majority.

The commission urged the council to enact an ordinance requiring the city to withdraw any of its funds from U.S. firms in South Africa that had not received a good performance rating under the Sullivan Principles.

Those principles are a code of conduct aimed at bettering the lot of black workers in U.S. companies in South Africa. Compliance with them is voluntary and a private U.S. firm determines how well each signatory company is performing.

City Attorney Cyril Calley and council member Carlyle C. Ring, a Republican, raised what they called practical questions about whether the city could require its pension funds to be transferred from one corporation to another. They noted that under one retirement plan, employes can direct their own investments, and in others, long-term contracts already exist with commercial investment firms whose decisions are beyond the council's control.

In its resolution, the council also committed itself to "publicly urge the governor and the legislature of Virginia to adopt similar policies."

Bruce R. Miller, chairman of the Human Rights Commission, said the resolution was similar to those already passed by five states and numerous localities, including Charlottesville.

"As Americans, and as Virginians, thus devoted to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we cannot ignore gross and unconscionable violations of human rights in other parts of the world, particularly when the policies and programs of our city may, through its investments, provide support for the continued violation of those rights," the council's resolution said.

In other action, the council, acting on Calley's advice, agreed to pick up the $2,775 bill for lawyers' fees incurred by City Manager Douglas Harman as a result of the council's decision in December to investigate his office after disclosure of allegations that a city police drug investigation was improperly halted. The council later dropped its investigation and a special grand jury is now reviewing allegations that the director of public safety, Charles T. Strobel, mishandled the drug investigation.