Two American Peace Corps volunteers in Botswana were recently flown to a U.S. Army hospital in Frankfurt, West Germany for medical care instead of to neighboring South Africa because of a new aging volunteers from traveling to the white-ruled country.
Corps volunteers in Botswana and in two countries surrounded by South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, are up in arms about the recently issued order which urges them not to come to South Africa for any reason.
U.S. officials say the volunteers' have questioned the legality of the order, saying that it conflicts with the Carter administration's policy of lifting travel restrictions for Americans to other countries on the theory that freedom of travel is a right.
Last year the U.S. government rescinded orders prohibiting U.S. citizens from visiting countries like Cuba, Albania and North Korea, "countries with which we don't have diplomatic relations," an American official pointed out. "How then can we put restrictions on travel to a country with which we do have diplomatic relations?"
The U.S. government still "strongly recommends" that Americans do not visit Rhodesia because it is considered an illegal government, having declared itself unilaterally independent from Britain in 1965. But Americans are not prevented from going there.
Corps volunteers have also objected that only they, and not other government officials, have been asked not to travel to South Africa.
A source close to the American Embassy here said the directive to avoid entering South Africa followed a recent trip to southern Africa by U.S. Peace Corps Director Caroline Payton and by the agency's regional director, William Gaymon.The first decree concerning medcail tips ordered the volunteers not to use South African facilities except in dire emergencies.
"That immediately raised a howl," said one U.S. offficial. The wording of the policy was then altered to simply urge the American volunteers to avoid using South African medical facilities. "It's worded so as not to give the impression it's an order, but it is," said one source.
[In Washington, Peace Corps spokesman John Pennington said the directive was issued because of reports from several black Peace Corps volunteers that they were harassed in South Africa, the Associated Press reported. Sources said the incidents involved a black Peace Corps volunteer who was refused treatment at a Johannesburg hospital and another who, although accompanied by a white nurse, was forced to get off a bus heading for the city.]
The policy has been put into effect at an apparent cost of $3,000 in two recent cases in Botswana.
Peter Hladish, 24, of Philadelphia made the 14-hour flight to Frankfurt two weeks ago to have a back complaint checked. Hladish said in a telephone interview yesterday that he was told by Peace Corps officials in Botswana that "unless I could not physically sit in a plane for 14 hours to Germany, that I should go."
He flew - via Johannesburg's international airport - to West Germany; waited four and a half hours at the hospital to see the Army doctor; then had a 20-minute checkup and X-rays. He was flown back to Botswana without any provisions for follow-up medical care. The trip cost about $1,500, he said.
Hladish said he has been to South Africa once for medical reasons and "found the service rendered in Johannesburg far superior to that in the Army hospital."
Another volunteer in Botswana, Chuck Butehorn, told the Associated Press that after Peace Corps medical staff members in Botswana set up an appointment for him in South Africa because of a serious back pain, they received a cable dated May 19 from Washington saying that he should go to West Germany for treatment. He flew there on a South African Airways flight.
"It's a symbolic act, I sympathize with that," Butehorn said, "but not at the expense of my health."
In urging the Peace Corps workers to say away from South Africa, the agency made suggestions about shopping, saying, for example, that volunteers in Swaziland should buy their film and have it developed in that country instead of in South Africa where it is cheaper.
"The problem with that is that when you take the film to be developed in Swaziland all they do is send it on to South Africa," said one American.
Hladish said that when Payton visited southern Africa she told a group of about 30 volunteers she was surprised that they would want [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to South Africa.
Most volunteers were "furious" at the new policy, Hladish said. "Even a few of the black volunteers I spoke to felt they should be able togo to South Africa to see exactly what the racial situation there is.