Last week H. H. Schwarz, as his business card reads, was working Capitol Hill, telling senators and congressmen that it was a bad idea for American firms to pull out of South Africa -- not a very surprising position for a member of the South African parliament, you might think. Harry Schwarz would shoot you a look for even suggesting that. He abhors his government. But he loves his people.
Schwarz, a member of the opposition Progressive Federal Party, is someone you hate to meet. He's a challenger of convictions, a person who hangs question marks on the end of sentences that should end with ringing certainty. He does this by asking questions himself. This is one of them: Have you ever looked into the face of a man who has no job?
Schwarz has. It was his father, a German refugee who arrived in South Africa during the depression of the 1930s. He went out one day to seek a job as a clerk at Woolworth's and returned still unemployed. Schwarz looked into his father's face and has never forgotten what he saw.
That face many times over would be seen all over South Africa if American corporations pulled out, Schwarz says. Men and women -- most of them black -- would be thrown out of work. The 120,000 people working for some 300 U.S. corporations would have to seek work elsewhere. They could work no more for firms that, prodded by American civil rights groups, have integrated their work places and pay equal wages. These are firms that are teaching skills, that are developing a black middle class, and, in the case of IBM, have established a trade school for blacks.
Why, Schwarz asks, should the blacks of South Africa have to lose jobs so that Americans can make an unambiguous statement about racism -- a statement tha them nothing? What, he asks, is accomplished by simply washing your hands of South Africa so that you can announce you are morally untainted by apartheid when doing that means the loss of jobs and the disintegration of families? Maybe, as some people say, this hardship will forge revolutionaries. The theory is nice. The reality of revolution often is not. Sooner or later, the guys with the guns take over.
Harry Schwarz robs people like me of the satisfaction of unambiguous indignation -- of pretending that the entire South Africa issue is as easy as being arrested at their embassy. Maybe both the reality and the symbolism of economic sanctions would so jolt the South African government that it would have to change its policies. And maybe in that case the jobs of a small percentage of the work force is a price worth paying. But the point Schwarz makes is that these are hard choices, not easy ones like choosing between good and evil. Morality is always cheap when someone else pays the cost.
This business of either washing your hands of South Africa or punishing it economically is a complicated one. Even black South Africans cannot agree on the proper course. Of course, there's always something to be said for asserting your own morality, for proclaiming something so rotten that it cuts though all complications.
Schwarz respects university students for their moral indignation, but he wants to tell them it would be best if American corporations remained in South Africa and pressed for reform. It would be best, he says, if the American government consistently denounced apartheid, prodding South Africa to do away with it but exerting pressure in a way that the victims of apartheid do not also become the victims of the anti-apartheid movement. Do you withhold aid from Ethiopians because their government is abhorrent? Schwarz asked. Do you let people starve because their rulers are communists?
The questions Schwarz asks, however you answer them, complicate what for many people is the moral equivalent of a free lunch. They look upon the face of racism and find it repugnant. Schwarz asks that they also look at the face of an unemployed father. It makes this free lunch no different from any other. It has its price.