By Helen Suzman
What can be done by the West to speed up the dismantling of apartheid? Many options are under consideration, with disinvestment and sanctions much to the fore. If I thought these would work, they would have my unconditional support.
Not only do I not believe these campaigns would be effective. I also believe they would be counter-productive.
I respect the moral motivation for disinvestment and sanctions. But, once gone from the South African scene, any good that may have resulted from American or European codes of employment conduct, for companies with interests in South Africa, will go by the board.
The Sullivan and European Community codes have certainly made businessmen more conscious of their social responsibilities, and have led to improvements in employment practices and also to assistance in education and housing.
More recently -- perhaps because of the threat of disinvestment -- organized business in South Africa has expressed its objections to the detention of trade unionists and is pressing for the repeal of influx control.
The vacuum left by the withdrawal of U.S. and European firms will be filled, if at all, by companies with less interest in the welfare of their black employees.
Moreover, if it is fondly imagined that the South African government will buckle under such pressures and abandon apartheid faster than it intends, this illusion should be immediately dispelled. Far more likely, far more in keeping with the temperament of the government and of the majority of the white inhabitants, would be the development of a siege mentality.
Nor should the idea be seriously entertained that economic hardship would lead to a successful black revolution, followed by a black majority socialist government to replace the white capitalist regime. It just is not on, as anyone acquainted with the ferocity and determination of the South African army and police will agree. Nor is there any guarantee that the replacement would be any better or more democratic than the present regime, should a revolution succeed.
That disinvestment, lack of foreign capital and imposition of sanctions would be effective as a punitive measure is undeniable. But it would not be selective of its victims.
Although white South Africans would be affected, the major sufferers would be black -- South African blacks and also blacks from neighboring states heavily dependent on South Africa for financial aid, grants, markets and jobs.
"Blacks don't care if there is mass unemployment," people say. I am on the receiving end of many requests from recent job losers for assistance in obtaining jobs, and I say that blacks who don't care are those whose jobs are not endangered or who have never had a job to loose. My main opposition to any steps that inhibit economic expansion is that such action blunts the only weapon that blacks have or are in the process of acquiring -- the economic muscle that accompanies upward mobility on the economic ladder by virtue of greater skills and increased consumer power. Too slowly, but nevertheless surely, blacks are obtaining the leverage with which to demand redress in the imbalances in power and wealth and privilege in South Africa.
It is totally counterproductive to put obstacles in the way of the economic forces that so far have led to changes that are more than cosmetic -- trade unionism, skilled job opportunities, urbanization.
And it is counterproductive to drive whites, who are in growing numbers increasingly disillusioned with apartheid and who have begun to accept power- sharing, back into the laager.
I have to admit I resent the way in which people living many thousands of miles away from South Africa totally ignore the hundreds of thousands of white South Africans who abhor race discrimination and who have been fighting apartheid for many years.
My party, with its policy of no statutory discrimination and full adult suffrage with no domination, obtained 20 percent of the votes of the white electorate at the last election. We will do better next time, but not if the country is under grave economic stress. Liberalizing forces are not strengthened in such circumstances.
What can or should the West do to help bring apartheid to an end without causing chaos in South Africa? There are limits to what can be done from outside, if peaceful reform is the objective.
Most helpful would be for
Western interests to stay in
South Africa and use their
influence with the government and white South Africans. Contact, not isolation,
is needed. In one area only
-- sport -- has isolation been
successful in helping to
break down segregation. It
worked because of South
Africa's longing to get back
into international sport, but
also because desegregation
in sport did not affect the
power structure. That there
have been no rewards forthcoming in sport, I might add,
is not conducive to South
Africans making other
U.S. and European firms
should accelerate their efforts to uplift black participation in the South African
economy. The latest reports on the implementation of the codes by U.S. and British firms are quite healthy. All firms not adhering to the codes should have penalties imposed on them. The United States is considering making the Sullivan code compulsory for American firms in South Africa. I appreciate the problems in monitoring, but there have been positive results from the codes, and this should be considered.
The West should raise its voice long and loud against apartheid in general, and in particular against any outrageous actions by the South African government. Never mind about "double standards": South Africa claims Western values and must be judged as such.
I have no doubt that protest by Western envoys helped to un-ban people such as Beyers Naude and was instrumental in freezing forced removals as at Crossroads. The South African government is more sensitive than one thinks. It does not enjoy being a pariah. It would like to be welcomed back into the Western community of nations.
But not at any cost. Rather should you aim at attainable objectives than adopt measures that could reduce the country to economic chaos, with totally unpredictable consequences.