In the face of mounting international pressure against South Africa’s white-minority government, Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha was openly defiant. Describing the endorsement last week of new economic sanctions against Pretoria by Commonwealth leaders as “cynical, evil and a hysterical stampede,” Botha said that South Africa will withstand any pressure to abandon apartheid. “We are prepared to accept a lowering of our standards of living,” he declared. “We are prepared to make sacrifices we believe in.” At the same time, the foreign minister announced economic countermeasures against neighboring Commonwealth nations governed by blacks. In the future, he said, goods that are shipped through South Africa will require import licences. And at the same time, a tax will be imposed on the materials, and stricter border controls will be imposed.
The most direct impact was on Zambia and Zimbabwe, two countries that led the Commonwealth campaign for sanctions and are heavily reliant on South Africa for trade and transportation links. Declared the South African foreign minister: “We want them to institute total, comprehensive sanctions against this country.” He claimed that full trade restrictions would force Zambia and Zimbabwe to “put their money where their mouth is.”
Botha accused Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Robert Mugabe of hypocrisy in calling for sanctions while relying on South Africa for 50 per cent of his country’s imports. The commercial link between the two countries is so close that Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Bernard Chidzero last year described it as “an umbilical relationship.” Botha noted that even as Mugabe was criticizing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for refus-
ing to agree to comprehensive sanctions, a Zimbabwe official was signing “important amendments” to a preferential trade agreement with South Africa.
Accusations: The foreign minister also charged that other prosanctions Commonwealth nations, ignoring Pretoria’s programs for dismantling apartheid, had been motivated by selfinterest. And he accused Australia and other countries that support sanctions of having a “hidden agenda” aimed at improving their own trade outlook. Botha said that the leaders of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Australia believe that by endorsing sanctions— with the aim of destabilizing the present government and helping the banned African National Congress (ANC) come to power in Pretoria—they could gain economic benefits in the future. Said Botha: “Could it be that Australia has entered into an agree-
ment with the ANC leadership on the marketing of coal in the future?”
The reaction from members of the South African business community to a boycott against the country’s exports of coal, steel and iron ore was one of deepening concern. Industry leaders said that thousands of jobs and billions of dollars worth of revenue were at stake. To offset the impact on South African workers, Botha last week reiterated his threat to expel many of the two million foreign African laborers working in the country.
Consequences: One sector which is expected to suffer particularly sharply from sanctions is the fruit export trade, based primarily in the western Cape region. According to South Africa’s Deciduous Fruit Board, more than one million people living in Cape Province would be adversely affected by the foreign fruit boycott. An estimated 250,000 people are employed in the region’s farming, canning and dried fruit industries. While South Africa exports 70 per cent of its fruit to 34 countries in the Far East and North America in trade valued at an estimated annual 600 million rand ($318 million Cdn.), the western Cape region sends 85 per cent of its fruit exports to European Community countries.
Not all South African industry sources were pessimistic. Some of them hinted at contingency plans said to be already in place to deal with international sanctions aimed at both strategic minerals and air traffic. The plans include the use of foreign ports to disguise the origin of South African exports and the use of neighboring countries’ airlines to run shuttle services from within South Africa to connect with the international airways. But few details of possible sanction-breaking plans were offered as a cloak of official secrecy quickly descended. South African Minister of Trade and Industries Dawid de Villiers last week warned his countrymen not to give away information on the nation’s trade links. “If an economic war is to be waged against us,” he said, “then we are bound, just as would be the case in other warfare, to become less talkative about these issues lest we jeopardize our own position.”
As well, some industry insiders reiterated Prime Minister Thatcher’s contention that sanctions are difficult to enforce. Sir Leslie Smith, the chairman of the British Industry Committee on South Africa (BICSA), underlined
that point in Johannesburg last week. Smith said that Communist Bloc countries had already begun to approach British firms with offers of “back door” routes for banned trade. British businessmen who want to circumvent sanctions could consign goods to European destinations, then on to Eastern Bloc ports and onward to South Africa, he explained. The same route could work in reverse for South African exports to Britain, Europe or other Commonwealth countries. A BICSA spokesman said that the companies approached so far have turned down the Communist Bloc offers but added, “We have been worried all along that a number of other countries will find it easier to get around the sanctions.” Whatever tactics South Africa employs, many analysts say that an international trade ban would dramatically cut the country’s vital export earnings and increase the cost of whatever imports it could buy. To an economy al-
ready beset by 20-per-cent inflation and massive unemployment—some estimates put the number of unemployed blacks at one million—those two factors would come as a major blow. The overall effect of sanctions, the analysts say, would be a short-lived boom of one to two years as local markets absorb some of the export trade and local producers try to fill the gap left in the import market. But, they add, economic stagnation would follow, setting off an escalation of political violence.
Still, others said that the sanctions
endorsed at the London summit did not go far enough. In Japan for the 41st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu accused the leaders of Britain, West Germany and the United States of shielding Pretoria from the consequences of even tougher sanctions. “Unless the international community intervenes decisively on behalf of justice and freedom in South Africa,” said Tutu, “then we’ll almost see Armageddon upon us.”
But other black South Africans took the opposite view. Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, the leader of six million Zulus in South Africa’s Kwazulu homeland, voiced concern over the long-term effect of sanctions. “It’s the worst thing that could have happened,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.” Buthelezi, a critic of Pretoria’s apartheid policies, said that there would be “terrible consequences” for black South Africans. “The threat of sanctions was always an important pressure on Pretoria to make political change and move ahead with reforms,” he said, “but now that sanctions are to come, that pressure is gone and the government has nothing left to lose.”
Warnings: Many of Pretoria’s white political critics also raised objections. “Both the Nationalist government and those imposing sanctions are pushing the country further into the spiral of violent conflict,” said opposition Progressive Federal Party member Harry Schwarz. His colleague, veteran antiapartheid activist Helen Suzmann, told a Johannesburg rally last week that sanctions would only make the government more defiant. “Liberation is not around the corner,” she said. “Whites put the government in power, and it is up to whites to get them out.” And an editorial last week in the influential South African daily Business Day warned that “a government which yields to external coercion loses control of its future, and whites in South Africa fear nothing so much as a loss of control.”
At week’s end, commercial traffic into South Africa from Zambia and Zimbabwe slowed to a crawl as South African customs agents conducted lengthy border inspections. Customs officials said that they were merely taking a statistical survey of crossborder movement, but some analysts said that the time-consuming checks were a sign of Pretoria’s willingness to pass the hardships of sanctions on to its neighbors. “The South African government may be ready to face sanctions,” said one government critic, “but it is a readiness born only of the realization that its back is against the wall and it has nowhere to turn.”
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