U.S. Caution on S. Africa Vital: Shultz : Says ‘Constructive Engagement’ Role Provides Leverage

Times Staff Writer

Secretary of State George P. Shultz, in the strongest reaffirmation in almost a year of the Administration’s “constructive engagement” policy toward South Africa, said Monday that the United States must use its limited influence sparingly if it hopes to have an impact on dismantling apartheid.

In a speech to a conference of U.S. religious leaders held under State Department auspices, Shultz said that opponents of racial segregation in South Africa “need more, not less, American involvement.”

Despite growing violence in South Africa and the white minority government’s air and commando raids last month on its neighbors, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, Shultz said that the United States will not impose economic sanctions. He urged U.S. private businesses to continue operating in that country.

‘Must Remain Involved’


“The American private sector must remain involved,” he said. “American companies in South Africa are the building blocks of our influence. That is why we oppose disinvestment. If American companies withdraw, we and the black majority of South Africa will be deprived of a major source of influence.”

In recent months, especially after South Africa’s cross-border raids against its black-ruled neighbors, some U.S. officials have shied away from the term “constructive engagement” while endorsing the underlying policy of trying to influence the white minority government in Pretoria through diplomacy rather than confrontation. But Shultz defended the name as well as the policy.

“We must be engaged, not disengaged,” Shultz said. " . . . We need to be a force for good. And, certainly in our efforts, we want to be constructive. So, I don’t frankly see what’s wrong with that (term).”

Firm, Gradual Approach


The secretary said that “the sand in the hourglass is running down” on the chances for a peaceful end to apartheid. However, he rejected suggestions from Congress, college campuses and elsewhere for an economic embargo or other measures intended to force the issue. He said the Administration is determined to continue a firm but gradual approach.

“Let us remember our goal,” Shultz said. “We seek the end of apartheid, racism and repression. Hence, our actions should target apartheid policies and institutions and disassociate ourselves from them. Our aim is not--I repeat not--to inflict random, indiscriminate damage on the South African people and their economy.”

Some Policy Successes

He did not say how the United States could mount such an attack on apartheid without affecting the South African economy.


Despite the continuing violence in South Africa, Shultz said, the U.S. policy has enjoyed some successes.

“Change is taking place in South Africa,” he said. “It is occurring unevenly, slowly, sometimes reluctantly or by stealth, but it is simply inaccurate to view apartheid in South Africa as a static system. . . . Our policy is based on the premise that South Africa is a society in transition.

“We must recognize that in the past year the South African government has begun meaningful reform,” he continued. “It has abolished laws against mixed marriages. It has expanded some forms of property rights for blacks. And it has reformed the pass laws, the tools of day-to-day control over the black population. But more, much more, remains to be done.”

Panel Starts Hearings


While Shultz spoke to the religious leaders in a State Department conference room, a newly appointed, blue-ribbon citizens committee began its first public hearing in an adjoining room.

The committee, scheduled to issue its report by the end of this year, is expected to recommend changes in the Administration’s South Africa policy, committee sources said.

Constructive engagement originally was formulated in 1980 by Chester A. Crocker, then a Georgetown University professor and now assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

The policy called for the United States to do business with the existing governments in South Africa and its black-ruled neighbors, striving to influence change in the region while avoiding the outright hostility to South Africa’s white minority regime that marked the Carter Administration.


Attacks From Left, Right

The policy was attacked from the start by both the left and right of the U.S. political spectrum. Liberals objected to dealing with South Africa, while conservatives wanted a tougher line toward the Marxist governments on South Africa’s borders.

Recently, some non-government specialists on Africa who once supported Crocker’s policy have concluded that it is ineffective and will never achieve its goal of fostering an end to apartheid.

But Shultz said the Administration’s approach is the only one that has any chance of influencing events in South Africa toward a negotiated settlement that would be acceptable to the majority of South Africans, black and white.


“The vast majority of South Africans do not want violence, and they do not want to chose between a black or a white dictatorship,” he said.

“Western interests--moral, strategic, economic and political--will suffer if the process of constructive, peaceful change fails to deliver the goods,” he said.