Trade vs. racism

We have heard quite a bit lately about the problems in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and the Middle East, but when is the last time you heard anything about South Africa?

When is the last time you discussed the United States lifting of sanctions? When is the last time you saw a news report on South Africa that did not focus on black-on-black violence?

The situation in South Africa has not improved in the area of civil rights, and if you think it has, you have been duped by the Bush administration and the media.

The only condition for lifting sanctions was the release of Nelson Mandela and 2,000 political prisoners. I’m grateful for their release; however, I don’t think those are strong enough demands on the Pretoria government.

No conditions were put on opening political participation, voting rights, desegregating public areas or guarantees on curbing human rights abuses by the government and right wing reactionaries. Why not? Could it be that the U.S. needs the South African markets more than it needs to support civil rights and democracy?

Initially, the battle over divestment rested on moral, not economic grounds. How could the United States, the argument went, economically support an apartheid regime? The U.S. stood as a beacon to the world as the land of the “free.”

Besides, with an expanding economy in the mid-eighties and the threat of boycotts, companies were willing to divest in order to show a commitment to civil rights since there was ample opportunity to find new markets. The government stood behind this effort after some prodding and eventually took the moral high ground internationally.

Earlier this year things had changed significantly. The U.S., in an economic downturn and tight markets, saw South Africa as a proven market which would be perfect for investment capital. The problem was how to get around the sanctions and the moral issue surrounding them.

The Bush administration made it perfectly clear to DeKlerk, president of South Africa, that if he released Mandela and the others as well as make some cosmetic changes, the U.S. would end sanctions.

Great, the U.S. gets markets, they get U.S. investment capital, and the apartheid system stays intact.

If we allow this to continue we are supporting racism. Further, we already support repression in El Salvador, (by not getting involved or voting). If we do not get involved now, we are giving our government permission to support repression in South Africa.

Vincent Gaddis

Graduate student