Republican Gov. James B. Edwards, saying that his reported remarks during a just-completed 17-day trip to South Africa had been "misunderstood," today refused to apologize for the comments that have been condemned as racist by state Democratic and black leaders.
"I don't think we need to apologize, because I have not made any remarks that would oftend anyone," the 50-year-old former oral surgeon told a news conference.
The statements attributed to Edwards that were condemned as racist included comments that "The black influence in American politics prevented the white South African government from getting its fair share of sympathy and understanding that the Carter administration's human right's policy has been "a little overdone," that some American inner cities are "very much worse" than the black Johannesburg township of Soweto, where some of the worst riots have taken place in protest of the country's racial policies, and that he was "shocked and pleasantly surprised to see how much money is being spent on health services, education, and housing for blacks" in South Africa.
Edwards did not deny these or other remarks attributed to him in earlier press reports, but he said he had been "misunderstood." Some of the quotes attributed to him were incomplete, he said.
he remarks drew fire from Democrats such as South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Donald I. Fowler, who accused the government of insulting South Carolina's back citizens.
But Edwards South Carolina's first Republican governor in a century and a close friend of Ronald Regan, emphasized that he doesn't condone and "even condemns" the South Africa government's apartheid policy. Apartheid is a system of rigid segregation of the races.
Edwards visited South Africa at the invitation and expense of the white minority government. "It's just a country I've always wanted to see." Edwards explained when asked why he made the trip.
Five black members of the South Carolina House of Representatives met today with the governor and demanded an apology tothe state's black citizens, about 30 per cent of the population . About 20 blacks, representing the South Carolina NAACP, picketed the Sout Carolina state house Thursday.
Most of the picketers carried signs. One read: "Racism will not be tolerated in South Carolina or South Africa."
But fellow Republicans such as former South Carolina GOP Chairman Harry Dent also publicy criticized the governor's trip and his remarks, expressing the fear that the dispute would harm the GOP's ongoing efforts to woo more blacks into the party.
Edwards, a conservative Republican, hasn't been especially popular with blacks in South Carolina, and many Republivans privately agreed with Dent that the governor's remarks would set back the partly. Reportedly however, the governor's office has received considerable mail in support of Edwards.
Edwards said he assured by his hosts, who included Prime Minister John Vorster, that they "were in favor of meaningful change in South Africa." The governor said he didn't know if that the government would go as far as supporting majority black rule.
Edwards, who has been under presure from conservative political groups to run for Congress in 1978, said he plans to return to his oral surgery practice in Charleston next year when his term as governor expires. Under south Carolina law he cannot succeed himself.