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South African Sanctions

October 1, 1986 -

In the stampede to appear virtuous and anti-racist, many have added their voice to the clamour for sanctions against South Africa. But the unpalatable truth is that sanctions will hurt the very people who are most vulnerable and dependent. This has not deterred the Canadian government and a number of Canadian churches from joining the parade of those intent on punishing South Africa. Some Commonwealth countries in favour of sanctions are themselves oppressive one-party dictatorships. Though unfashionable, the voices of moderation and good sense deserve to be heard. Here are a few examples.

We should be exerting strong moral suasion on the Botha regime, while offering the carrot of rewards for apartheid's end. Instead, at the very moment when white South Africa finally admits apartheid is doomed, the West lines up punishments. Black South Africa needs a Marshall Plan: more investment, direct grants to black townships, tough rules on pay and working conditions for blacks in Western companies, scholarships for black students. White South Africa needs to know that though it will lose privileges in this new Africa, it need not fear for life or liberty. These steps may not have the rhetorical flourish of Mulroney's High Sentimentality, but they could work. (Barbara Amiel, Maclean's, August 18, 1986, p. 7) 

Sir Woodrow Wyatt, a former Labour member of the British Parliament, had this to say:

It is important to understand that there is no chance of a South Africa ruled as an ANC one-party state—the much talked-of "Azania"—being any more civilised than other independent African states where the imprisonment, torture, and destruction of opponents and minority tribes by the thousands is habitual. Those woolly-minded, well intentioned, "eminent" (and not so eminent) persons who try to drive South Africa into the hands of the ANC should by now have ample evidence to know the "objective" wickedness of such a policy . . .

Disinvestment and Sanctions, unfortunately, hit Blacks first, and they have been causing more unemployment and real suffering and hardship. They also aid the ANC's cause in provoking the measure of anarchy in which despair and excitement act as a recruiting agency for the "revolution" the ANC want. ("A Necklace for Azania," Encounter, September/October 1986)

The following statement is excerpted from a letter by Chief Mangosuthu G. Buthelezi, the Zulu leader and president of Inkatha, to The Guardian (London). He wrote:

Your reports from South Africa and Leaders about our country always cleverly skirt one point: do you approve of or condemn the violence by which blacks and whites are being most brutally murdered and maimed in the name of the liberation struggle?

For many years I have observed that The Guardian finds little fault with the external mission of the ANC; I have the distinct impression that you view the ANC as a legitimate government in exile and the movement through which South Africa should hand over power to the people.

The fact that the policy of the ANC is to kill people is rarely highlighted . . .

The ANC (or even The Guardian) does not have a monopoly on black anger. I have suffered as a black man in this country all my life. I am no government "stooge" and never will be. My forefathers fought British imperialism; today I am prepared to die for democracy, and I will not rest until apartheid is dead.

But I am not prepared to lead my people into a battle where they would be decimated. South Africa cannot and will not be liberated with the blood of children.

Today, more than ever, negotiation and peaceful change is within our grasp. Whites, more than ever, are ready to negotiate. Nobody can say exactly when and how, but one thing I do know; senseless violence will not help our cause. 

Helen Suzman is an Opposition member in South Africa's parliament. First elected in 1953, she has long been an outspoken critic of apartheid. She writes:

Although many vital issues remain to be addressed—redistribution of land and the disproportionate living standards of white and black South Africans—there is no doubt that the reforms signify a change of direction: away from apartheid. The recent reforms will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the future well-being of black South Africans. In fact, had these changes taken place five years earlier, the impact would have been far greater among blacks. As it is, they have been totally overshadowed by the reimposition of a state of emergency, the detention of thousands of people and the ongoing violence in the black townships . . .

While realizing that I lay myself open to the accusation of paternalism, I have to say that I have more respect for the American companies that have, so far anyway, remained in South Africa (and have set aside millions of dollars for the education, training and housing of their black employees) than for those that have left the country. The companies that have left have taken with them what influence they could have had inside South Africa, thereby abandoning desperate, jobless breadwinners in a country with no social security safety net, no dole and no food stamps . . .

It is astonishing to me that those advocating punitive actions do not realize that, if successful, they will have undermined the most significant power base that blacks could acquire . . .

It may well be that all such arguments fall on deaf ears, and that they are advanced in a lost cause. Nevertheless, they deserve to be made in the interest of millions of moderate South Africans of all races who abhor apartheid, who have long fought the abominable practices of race discrimination and who are striving for a peaceful transition to a nonracial democracy. For them, at least, it is surely not too much to ask that they be spared the violence and misery of a scorched-earth policy . . .

The United States should keep up its condemnation of apartheid. The system of apartheid is an affront to people concerned with civilized values throughout the world. Its eradication would be an important gain for the civil-rights movement and would increase the sum of human freedom world-wide. The United States should exert pressure on apartheid, but not impose punitive measures that will wreck the South African economy. That is the strategy of despair that will destroy the inheritance which blacks will inevitably share. ("What America Should Do About South Africa," New York Times Magazine, August 3, 1986, PP, 14-17) 

The Globe and Mail of October 16, 1986 reprinted from South Africa's Sunday Times the following letter by former heart surgeon, Dr. Christiaan Barnard:

There is a stink to starvation that doesn't show on a television screen. It assaults the nostrils and revolts the stomach—the stench of obscenity. Once you see a starving child you know the real meaning of obscenity.

It is then that another emotion takes over—anger.

I feel that anger when I read of churchmen who call for economic sanctions. I try to believe that, like the Roman soldiers who crucified Christ, they know not what they do.

No churchman's salary will stop when trade comes to a halt. Priests and prelates, like the lilies of the field, toil not for their cash. It comes to them on a silver plate.

And it keeps coming whether the stock market rises or falls.

Bishops will be safe too. Princes of the church live in palaces where sanctions don't apply.

Sanctions, which is just another word for starvation, will place 15 million children under threat of famine.

Politicians throughout the Commonwealth have voted for this appalling prospect, but nobody asked the children. Dreading a breakup of the Commonwealth, good men voted for evil. 

And Alan Paton, South African author (Cry the Beloved Country, Too Late the Phalarope) and life-long opponent of apartheid, explained his stand on sanctions as follows:

Why am I totally opposed to disinvestment? It is primarily for a moral reason. It is my firm belief that those who will pay most grievously for disinvestment will be the black workers of South Africa. I take very seriously the teachings of the Gospels, in particular the parables about giving drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry. It seems to me that Jesus attached supreme—indeed sacred—significance to such actions. Therefore I will not help to cause any such suffering to any black person. (Crisis, October 1986, p, 24) 

Undoubtedly, apartheid is wrong in principle and untenable in practice. Changes must and will be made in South Africa, but neither the whites nor the blacks in that troubled country are helped in any way by the self-righteous posturing of many of its critics, including the Canadian media and the churches. Especially the latter ought to be aware that playing into the hands of a revolutionary organization like the African National Congress is not in keeping with the Gospel message of reconciliation and renewal.