The following statement was issued by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference on Economic Pressure on the South African Government, held last month.
We must emphasize from the start that it is the unprecedented seriousness of our present crisis, the enormity of the present suffering of the oppressed people of South Africa, the horrifying spectre of escalating violence, that has led us to take this stand. Anyone who does not appreciate the untold daily sufferings of the people, the pain, the insecurity of starvation, the horrors of widespread unemployment that are associated with the present system, will also appreciate that need for drastic and extraordinary measures to put an end to all this misery as quickly as possible.
The system of apartheid has caused so much suffering and so much harm in human relations in our country for so long and is now being defended, despite some reforms, with so much repressive violence that people have had to resort to the strongest possible forms of pressure to change the system. It seems that the most effective of nonviolent forms of pressure left is economic pressure.
We are deeply concerned about the additional suffering that some forms of economic pressure might cause and we remain very sensitive to the possibility of further unemployment and escalating violence. But against this we have to balance the enormity of the present suffering and rate of unemployment and the prospect for the future if the system of apartheid is not dismantled soon. The aim and purpose of economic pressure is to change our society so that the present sufferings may be removed together with the obstacles to employment deriving from the apartheid system.
In considering economic pressure, we recognize that it can be a morally justifiable means of bringing about the elimination of injustices. In deciding in a particular case whether such pressure is justified or not, one needs to balance the degree of injustice and the pressing need to eliminate it against the hardship such pressure may cause. . . .
We ourselves believe that economic pressure has been justifiably imposed to end apartheid. Moreover, we believe that such pressure should continue and, if necessary, be intensified should the developments . . . show little hope of fundamental change. However, we do not need to point out that, in our view intensified pressure can only be justified if applied in such a way as not to destroy the country's economy and to reduce as far as possible any additional suffering to the oppressed through job loss.
At the moment we can see no justification for the sort of pressure that would leave a liberated South Africa in an economically nonviable situation. However, we also recognize that the most important factor in deciding on how much suffering should be allowed to flow from economic pressure is therefore that their views be as fully canvassed as possible. Such consultation is especially important in local consumer boycotts where, in order to achieve conformity, not infrequently forms of intimidation are used that range from the regrettable to the most inhuman imaginable. The latter cannot be condemned strongly enough.
We acknowledge yet again that in taking steps such as scrapping of the influx control, the government has initiated certain potentially genuine changes. However, if these are not linked to the issue of negotiation with accepted leaders of the people, the current civil war situation will continue and with it an escalating spiral of violence. Such negotiations are possible only if all political prisoners are released and their organizations unbanned. The release of such leaders is therefore a vital element in considering the degree to which change is genuine and economic pressure needs to be applied.