A bank official in Johannesburg has a message for the good American church people demonstrating before the U.S. Congress and the South African Embassy: "Tell them their activism has created 100 new white South African millionaires from the fire sale of U.S. assets and, at the same time, economic devastation for thousands of black workers who have lost their jobs."
One survey estimates that 5,800 black workers have lost jobs because U.S. corporations closed their operations or sold their holdings in South Africa. Nearly 600 of them were left without work when 14 U.S. businesses locked their doors. The remainder are unemployed because of retrenchment and restructuring by new owners.
Worldwide sanctions, disinvestment and divestiture have been more serious. No one has exact figures, but a Kwazulu publication estimates that about 450,000 black people have been adversely affected. Black union leaders estimate that sanctions, if applied indiscriminately, might cost 2 million jobs by the year 2000.
Sanctions minimally weaken the South African economy, but deepen the black unemployment problem and bring no solace to the black majority seeking economic opportunity.
South African sanctions have been in place long enough to demonstrate they are counterproductive. Those such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Leon Sullivan in Philadelphia and Randall Robinson in Washington who advocate more sanctions remind one of Louis XIV's doctors, who prescribed bleeding and leeching when the Sun King was on his deathbed. As his condition worsened, they conferred and then ordered more leeching and bleeding. Sullivan, Tutu, Robinson and others who are unwilling to look honestly at the record of sanctions seem not to care about the bleeding of the black patient.
The Salvation Army's Maj. A. D. McChlery of Johannesburg says that sanctions are "inhumane" -- falling disproportionately on black workers and their families. At the same time, he says, "it is useful to maintain positive external pressure for reform." McChlery also notes that South Africa is the only sub-Saharan country that has not received financial "handouts" from overseas and believes that it has made significant progress, which is possible only when all races are working together.
U.S. sanctions almost surely were politically counterproductive to their intended purpose in the recent national elections in South Africa. P. W. Botha, running on a platform deploring American interference in the internal affairs of South Africa, swept to a substantial victory. Frightened white voters elevated the Conservative Party to opposition status, replacing the Liberals. One week after the election, Botha told businessmen and university professors active in the reform movement to get out of politics and stay out. He told them to leave politics to politicians, thus exhibiting a much harder line than that used in his pre-election statements.
Sanctions applied against Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Libya and the Soviet Union have been singularly ineffective. Given that record, white South Africans are supremely confident that they, too, can survive whatever inconvenience sanctions cause. Some of them have already profited outrageously in the process.
In a sense, the application of further sanctions may be a moot point. Most U.S. industries have already departed, and Western Europe and Japan have substituted scolding rhetoric for coercive economic measures. They are unlikely to do more than their own version of "constructive engagement," citing recent history for their more pragmatic approach.
Oliver Tambo and Botha seem to agree on one thing: that the problems of South Africa must be solved by that country's own people. Oppressed majorities throughout history have somehow managed to liberate themselves. Outside pressure may hasten somewhat the end of a repugnant system, but nations far removed from the scene of action have only marginal influence.The writer, a former lieutenant governor of Kansas, is a U.S. postal rate commissioner.