Even South Africa's officials seem a little embarrassed these days to defend the policy that would solve their racial dilemma by declaring their black majority to be citizens of someplace else.
Instead, they speak encouragingly of negotiations now under way for a new "dispensation" for blacks. The "homelands" policy, they recognize, has been discredited around the world.
Well, almost. David E. Short thinks it's such a grand idea that he'd like to see the United States establish full diplomatic relations with Bophuthatswana, Transkei and the other new "homelands" -- something no other country in the world (save South Africa, which created them) has done.
Short is, of course, entitled to his opinion. He is also entitled, as chair of the Legislation Action Committee of the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, to urge his opinion on members of the ABA. By the same token, ABA members are entitled to reject his outrageous notion. Here's hoping they will do so in the strongest possible terms.
Some, including a fair number of the association's black members, already have done so, prompting an explanation from Short that is more astonishing even than his proposal itself.
The purpose, he says, is to "stop the spread of the ideologies" that prevail in most of black Africa. "The best way to do that, in our view, is to strengthen this country's support for the Botha government, which has already demonstrated its commitment to increasing the political rights of the colored and Indian minorities, and to according full political rights to blacks as citizens of their respective homelands."
Short's position makes the Reagan administration's policy of "constructive engagment" seem like a diplomatic cold shoulder.
Short, who says he has "no clients and no financial or professional connection" with South Africa, said in a telephone interview that the proposal to urge diplomatic recognition of the "homelands" was really his own idea and not a consensus of the 80-member Legislative Action Committee. "It was just one of seven or eight proposals of the committee, including one on acid- rain legislation and another on indigent-defense funding," he said.
But he makes clear that he sees South Africa as an anti-communist bastion, America's best hope for "stopping the spread of communism" that has turned South Africa's neighbors, including Zimbabwe, into "Soviet satellites (whose) economic and political systems are an anathema to the basic Western values. . . ."
And what is it that Short would support in the name of anti-communism? He would have the United States give full backing and credibility to a system that would forcibly relocate blacks to their putative "homelands" (scattered bis of undeveloped land that many of their "citizens" have never even seen) or else leave them in the urban areas, where they are needed as workers and consumers, while assigning their citizenship to these "homelands." The rights of black South Africans would no longer be an issue, because there wouldn't be any black South Africans.
Vincent H. Cohen, a partner in the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson and a 20-year member of the ABA, likens the "homelands" approach to Hitler's "final solution" of the Jewish problem.
South Africa's black majority has made clear again and again that it does not consider the "homelands" approach any solution whatever to its denial of citizenship rights, and the world has made clear that it understands the blatantly racist policy for what it is. As far as I can ascertain, the South Africans have not been able to persuade a single government to recognize the homelands as legitimate nations.
But they have convinced David Short, who visited South Africa in September, that their approach is not only wonderfully anti-communist but also would leave South Africa's black majority "far better off."
Now if they can only convince the blacks.