South Africa’s leaders have decided to “dismantle apartheid,” Herbert Beukes, Pretoria’s ambassador to the United States, declared Sunday in the most far-reaching indication yet that the white minority government may be edging toward significant racial reform.
Beukes also said that his government is committed to granting full political equality and voting rights to blacks, a promise previously only hinted at by South African leaders who have frequently dangled ambiguous pledges of change before an increasingly restive black majority.
Still, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Beukes remained vague about when and how such sweeping reforms would be accomplished and whether they would lead to eventual black rule.
‘Decision Made,’ He Says
“The decision has been made, yes, to move away from apartheid, to dismantle apartheid,” Beukes declared.
Questioned on the same program, Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), a principal sponsor of legislation that would impose American economic sanctions against South Africa because of its racial discrimination policies, said he was “surprised” by Beukes’ statements. But Gray cautioned that the Pretoria government has a history of promising change and then failing to deliver it.
“I hope it comes true, and I hope it comes true rather quickly and on a timetable to avert the increasing violence that I think will take place there,” Gray said of the reforms that Beukes’ statements implied. “But, unfortunately, we’ve heard the South African government talk about reforms consistently for the last decade, but they don’t quite seem to get passed into law.”
Reagan Version of Sanctions
The sanctions bill overwhelmingly passed the Democratic House but was bottled up in the Republican Senate last week after President Reagan reluctantly ordered his own program of similar, but somewhat milder, economic penalties against South Africa. Several West European nations also announced sanctions.
The comments of Beukes, who has not yet formally presented his ambassadorial credentials to President Reagan, followed a series of sometimes confusing signals issued in recent days by the South African government as it faced increasing pressure for change--rising protests within the country as well as from Western critics.
Last week, President Pieter W. Botha announced that his government will restore South African citizenship to millions of blacks previously classified as citizens of supposedly independent tribal homelands. In another potentially significant development, a presidential commission in South Africa recommended the elimination of “influx control,” or pass laws, designed to limit black access to white areas.
Only Wednesday, Botha had said that he would never make a flat statement of intent to dismantle apartheid. Moderate black leaders, such as Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, head of the million-member Zulu political movement Inkatha, have insisted on such a declaration before agreeing to enter into negotiations on reforms proposed recently by Botha. And, despite optimism spawned by the citizenship decision, a top-ranking government minister said that it would not mean the exercise of full political rights by blacks.
But Beukes, in his remarks Sunday, implied otherwise, saying that extending full citizenship to blacks--who presently do not have national political representation or the right to vote--meant that they would be accorded equal political rights with whites.
“That indeed is the decision--to extend political rights, meaning to remove political inequalities,” he said.
‘Should Have the Right’
Asked if that meant blacks would be given the right to vote, Beukes replied: “Political equality means, obviously, that everybody should have the right to participate in the process. . . . Every person should have the right to vote, indeed.”
He said that the question of whether such changes would bring about black majority rule would depend on the result of negotiations between the races on how to restructure the government. “It depends on the system that you’re going to evolve, or the model--the government model, the constitutional model,” he added.
The ambassador also said he believes his government is preparing to announce further reforms soon, but he gave no details of such steps.
Beukes said that the government will not release Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned and ailing leader of the African National Congress, unless he renounces the use of violence. But he added that Mandela may be taken from prison temporarily to receive medical attention.
The ambassador also said that the Rev. Allan Boesak, a founder of the United Democratic Front, who was arrested recently in a government crackdown on protest, will either be released from jail or formally be charged with a crime.