Int’l Pressure Still Needed Against Apartheid South Africa

LOS ANGELES, California — “Welcome to Nelson Mandela Square” declared a long banner near the outside of the South African consulate building in posh Beverly Hills.

The unofficial renaming of the area was made by local anti-apartheid activists after hearing the news Feb. 11 [1990] that Nelson Mandela was finally free. The event was one of many similar anti-apartheid celebrations that took place in major cities across the United States, including Washington D.C., Chicago and New York.

The images of a freed Mandela walking defiantly out of prison and addressing his own people in jammed rallies cannot help but bring a lump to the throat and tears to the eyes of the millions of anti-apartheid activists around the world This is the day we had long hoped for, but realistically thought we’d never see in our lifetimes. It was indeed world history in the making.

Yet we noticed that Mandela was barely out of jail when U.S. president George H.W. Bush and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher were calling for “recognition” of the white-minority government for its “boldness” in releasing Mandela.

In Mrs. Thatcher’s case, it means repealing economic sanctions against Pretoria. Mr. Bush went a step further and even made a historically unprecedented invitation for a white South African president — F.W. de Klerk — to visit the White House. Clearly, the west, in considering its own political interests over those of black South Africans, is still somewhat out of touch when it comes to the real issues surrounding apartheid.

As an Osaka JAAC member writing on these same pages a few months ago, I made the case that de Klerk, with his past record on apartheid injustices as president and former education minister, is not to be trusted. I still strongly maintain that thesis. We must remember that de Klerk is first and foremost a staunch, pro-apartheid National Party man. He is taking only the minimum steps required to set the table for negotiations. So far, nobody but his party is eating at that table.

I am willing to grant him his due, however, for making that first big move toward a stable South Africa. But we in the west and Asia must keep in mind that de Klerk’s moves still leave the real legislative evils of apartheid firmly rooted in place.

On a ladder of 0 to 100, with 0 being complete apartheid domination and 100 being a democratic South Africa, de Klerk has moved only to step #1. This may be cause for some celebration, but it is certainly no cause for us to consider drastic actions like lifting economic sanctions against the apartheid regime at this early stage.

We must keep in mind, too, that de Klerk and his party have not made these changes out of the goodness of their hearts, as they would have the international community believe. Rather, it has been the economic, political and cultural pressure from both inside and outside South Africa that have
forced obstinate white South Africans to give in.

Nelson Mandela has told us all that international pressure has played a vital role in getting Pretoria this far, and that we must continue that pressure. If anything, we should
increase the pressure by our respective anti-apartheid activities through public demonstrations, boycotts, concerts, letter-writing campaigns and whatever else it takes to push a reluctant Pretoria over the major hurdles it faces.

We all must continue to give our unequivocal support to the African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Black Consciousness movement and other liberation groups that call on us.

We will know our job has been done only when free black South Africans — not their white politicians — tell us that the struggle is finally over. Until then, we need to oppose apartheid as vocally and vehemently as we have been. That is what Nelson Mandela, free after 27 years in prison, is asking of us on behalf of his constituents — the black majority.

In the meantime, instead of giving undue credit to a racist Afrikaner named de Klerk, let us give the real credit where it belongs: to the countless black South African men, women and children who are fighting and dying for a just and nonracial society. Let us declare a “Nelson Mandela Square” wherever possible in our communities.


—Editorial opinion by Brian L. Covert