After months of maintaining her steely stance, the Iron Lady finally seemed ready to bend. Last Thursday British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons that if Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe’s meeting this week with South African President Pieter Botha did not produce any tangible results on ending apartheid, her government was preparing a wide range of “contingency plans.” But even that vague hint that Britain may be prepared to enact economic measures against the white-minority regime in South Africa was clearly a case of too little, too late for much of the rest of the Commonwealth. By week’s end, more than a third of Commonwealth countries, angered by Thatcher’s long-standing refusal to consider sanctions against Pretoria, had withdrawn from the Commonwealth Games, due to open Thursday in Edinburgh (page 41). And according to unofficial reports in London, the threat to the Com-
monwealth had provoked a rift between Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the 49nation organization, and her British prime minister.
The reports of a disagreement between the Commonwealth’s first ladies are the latest indication of frosty relations between Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street since Thatcher came to power in 1979. One member of the House of Lords said, “It is no secret that the two great ladies detest one an-
other.” Now, British analysts and observers say that the mooted personality conflict is augmented by a fundamental dispute over the nature of the Commonwealth itself. Thatcher, in the words of one British commentator, shows an “ugly indifference to its future,” while the Queen is strongly committed to the unity of the organization she heads. British constitutional experts say that the Queen has the power to advise, admonish and warn her gov-
ernment, but in strict privacy. And according to one senior government official, the Queen has demonstrated during her reign of almost 35 years that she is prepared “to intervene forcefully.”
The pressure for sanctions against South Africa has been growing in step with the rise in political protests and racial violence—and some political reforms —in that country during the past 2V2 years. At the
Commonwealth summit conference in the Bahamas last October, 46 nations, including Britain, agreed to increase pressure on Pretoria through voluntary actions—among them a halt to new government loans and a ban on sales of gold Krugerrand coins. A summit-assigned Commonwealth study group reported on June 11 that Pretoria was unwilling to negotiate with the black majority, and it called for stronger “concerted action.”
The following day Pretoria instituted a national state of emergency. Despite press censorship, there have been reports of more violence and the arrest of as many as 4,500 people without charge. Some of the most forceful demands for sanctions have come from Zambia and Zimbabwe—African states economically dependent on South Africa. Indeed, last week during Ottawa hearings into the feasibility of sanctions by the House of Commons human rights committee, Zimbabwe’s high commissioner to Canada, Stanislaus Chigwedere, said: “What is required now is the total abolition of apartheid. We call for comprehensive mandatory sanctions to be imposed.”
Adding to an array of largely symbolic actions, the Canadian government last month imposed an end to government purchases of South African products and a voluntary ban on South African travel advertising in Canada. Ottawa has indicated its willingness to introduce tougher measures, but officials say that effective pressure requires concerted action including British sanctions. In an effort to persuade Thatcher to change her stance, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney met with her on July 13 at Quebec’s Mirabel airport while the British prime minister was returning home from a visit to Expo 86. And after Thatcher refused to budge, saying only that consultation and not sanctions would bring about any changes in South Africa, Mulroney said, “It was 25 years ago that those same arguments were made by South Africans.”
Last week Howe conferred in Washington with President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz and agreed, in Howe’s words, “to consider whether further measures might be necessary.” But both governments are officially committed to finding ways short of full economic sanctions to bring South Africa’s blacks and whites to the negotiating table. But Thatcher said that in the event that Howe’s mission fails, Britain would adhere to an agreement reached by European Community leaders earlier this month. That accord would only consider such measures as a ban on South African produce, worth about $312 million (Cdn.) annually. Critics say that such steps will be no more than token gestures for a nation with an estimated $12 billion worth of invest-
ments in South Africa and annual trade valued at about $3.5 billion. And they add that Thatcher’s opposition to strong economic retaliation against Pretoria has clearly left the the impression of a prime minister insensitive to the subjugation of South Africa’s blacks.
As a result, by week’s end the list of governments pulling out of the Commonwealth games was growing rapidly. It included most African affiliates and an array of Caribbean members, including the Bahamas and Jamaica. Zambia’s prime minister, Kenneth Kaunda, has gone even further, threatening to resign from the Commonwealth altogether if
Thatcher does not change her mind on sanctions by the time of a scheduled meeting on the issue among seven Commonwealth leaders, including Mulroney, in London from Aug. 3 to 5. Canada and the other predominantly white former dominions, Australia and New Zealand, still planned to participate in the Games. But, declared Australian Foreign Minister William Hayden: “I can understand the reaction when the black people of South Africa are suffering untold misery and discrimination.”
For her part, Thatcher has called the idea of an economic boycott “immoral.” And she told the Commons last week that sanctions would only lead to “starvation of children and wide-scale unemployment in South Africa and in this country.” She says that sanctions would result in the loss of at least 120,000 trade-dependent British jobs. Thatcher’s figures have been disputed by the Fabian Society, the British social democratic study group, which claims that only 26,000 jobs would be threatened if Britain were to cut off trade with Pretoria. Still, the prime minister’s preoccupation with British employment is understandable: opinion polls consistently show
that the unemployment rate, currently 13 per cent of the labor force, is the overriding concern among British voters.
At the same time, some studies conclude that economic sanctions might not bring about the avowed objective of ending apartheid. A study commissioned by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and completed last February found that South Africa is “remarkably vulnerable to international economic pressure.” For one thing, says the study, a total ban on foreign investment alone would result in a loss of up to 150,000 jobs in one year—a third of
them white. But though international sanctions could push Pretoria “in the direction of substantial reform,” they could just as well result in “a retreat to the right.” And the political instability caused by sanctions could bring attempted right-wing or left-wing coups, or a possible takeover by blacks “with a massive loss of life and property.”
Still, black leaders in South Africa and representatives of the continent’s southern black states say that if Pretoria does not change its policies, a bloodbath between blacks and whites is unavoidable. And leaders such as South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu argue that if sanctions offer even a chance of forcing the white government toward reforms, they should be imposed. At the same time, black leaders concede that sanctions would be harmful to blacks. Said Zimbabwe’s Chigwedere in Ottawa: “Sanctions will definitely have adverse effects. But it would be a better alternative for us to have sanctions now and to suffer for a period than to prolong the life of apartheid and to suffer indefinitely.”
But it is clear that sanctions would
have a particularly sharp effect on black states in southern Africa. Said one Western diplomat in Johannesburg: “The whole of the region could be devastated by a sanctions war. For the weaker black-ruled states sanctions could prove to be a catastrophe.” The reason is that most states in the region are economically at the mercy of Pretoria. A U.S. congressional study found that South Africa’s Electricity Supply Commission provides 100 per cent of Lesotho’s power needs, 79 per cent of Swaziland’s and about 50 per ,cent of Zimbabwe’s. In addition, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland are linked through
a customs union to South Africa.
The southern African economies are also dependent on South Africa’s transportation routes to seaports. Rail and highway routes through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Zaire and Malawi are all tied to lines that lead to the South African ports of Durban, East London and Cape Town. About 45 per cent of the combined imports and exports of Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Zaire are shunted through South African ports. And in the event of sanctions, Pretoria could close its borders in reprisal, leaving those states with no access to shipping routes.
Experts say that any sanctions will clearly have to be accompanied by increased aid to southern Africa’s black states. In Ottawa last week, Anglican Archbishop Edward Scott, a member of the special Commonwealth study group that in June recommended the use of
sanctions, said that Canada must be prepared for that eventuality. Said Scott: “We have no right to move without indicating that we’re prepared to provide support.” The government has not yet responded. But last week the Commons human rights committee voted to ask Parliament to initiate mandatory economic sanctions against Pretoria if progress is not made at the London Commonwealth summit next month and if South Africa does not move toward significant reforms by a Sept. 30 deadline. The committee also agreed that African states that suffer as a result of sanc-
tions should receive compensation.
The Canadian initiatives will put further pressure on Thatcher at the August Commonwealth conference. And at week’s end there were signs in Washington that Reagan is under growing pressure to modify his opposition to strong sanctions. In June the House of Representatives approved a bill that would place South Africa under a total trade embargo and force U.S. businesses to pull out of the country. And the Senate is now considering three different proposals, one of which is similar to the House legislation. Declared Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who along with Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.) introduced the tough legislation: “The policy of the administration is a disgrace and an embarrassment.”
Any congressional action faces a possible presidential veto. But the growing demands for harsher measures against
Pretoria have already forced the Reagan administration into a re-evaluation of its South African policy. In fact, Reagan is expected to address the nation early this week on the South African question. In a gesture short of endorsing sanctions, he is expected to announce the nomination of Robert Brown, a black North Carolina businessman, as the first black U.S. ambassador to South Africa. In South Africa some white spokesmen have reacted with outrage to that proposal. Said Jaap Marais, leader of the extreme right-wing Reformed National party: “The government should refuse to receive him.”
Meanwhile, blacks in South Africa continued to challenge Pretoria. As a new semester in the country’s schools began last Monday, as many as 30 per cent of 1.7 million black students stayed home to protest new security measures announced the day before by President Pieter W. Botha. The measures include the introduction of mandatory identity cards which the government hopes will effectively bar outside agitators from school yards. And although a “day of action” called by the Congress of South African Trade Unions yielded a scanty response in some areas, in others such as Port Elizabeth fully 70 per cent of the black workforce stayed home to protest the detention of union members.
Anti-apartheid activists also won a minor victory in court. After the Metal and Allied Workers’ Union appealed the legality of the June emergency law, one of the three Supreme Court justices hearing the appeal said, “I cannot make head nor tail of the regulations.” The three justices thereupon ordered amendments. They made the definition of outlawed “subversive statements” less sweeping and provided lawyers with easier access to detainees. But they ruled that overall the emergency decree was legal.
In the face of the political and economic pressures at home and abroad, the Botha government last week staged a ceremony that displayed both its military and its industrial self-sufficiency. In the presence of the prime minister and the press, Pretoria unveiled a new domestically built supersonic jet fighter christened the Cheetah. As the missilecarrying aircraft glittered behind him, Botha declared: “We will fight back with determination against boycotts and threats against our country in every field of life. We are not a nation of jellyfish.” In the face of worldwide condemnation, it was another concrete indication that Pretoria intended to stand firm.
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