Reagan Urges S. Africa to Permit Peaceful Protests
President Reagan, in an impassioned statement Friday on the latest crackdown in South Africa, said he has told President Pieter W. Botha of his “deep feelings” that peaceful protests to commemorate the coming 10th anniversary of the Soweto uprising must be allowed.
At the same time, however, Reagan declined to condemn the nationwide state of emergency imposed Thursday by the Pretoria regime. Instead he told a reporter, “Let me say we regret it.”
In a statement released at the White House, Reagan pleaded for “all parties to exercise maximum restraint” and said nonviolent dissent is “the hallmark of civilized governments and in the best tradition of the Western democracies.”
An aide said Reagan’s cautionary words were relayed to Botha by U.S. Ambassador Herman W. Nickel at a meeting in Cape Town.
“I want to address myself publicly to all South Africans to urge that they consider again the stark consequences of violence before lighting the next match or pulling the next trigger,” Reagan said in his statement. “Our hearts are with the people of South Africa in this time of trauma. We appeal to them--white and black--to face up to their own responsibilities.”
In a luncheon with reporters, Reagan called the situation in South Africa “an outright civil war” and noted that “it’s no longer just a contest between the black population and the white population. It is blacks fighting against blacks.”
A White House official said Reagan’s stronger language was designed to head off growing sentiment in Congress for stiffer economic sanctions to force the Pretoria government to end apartheid.
Doubts Sanctions’ Usefulness
“We still don’t think that sanctions would be effective,” Reagan said. “Whatever we did do in that line would militate against the people we’re trying to help.”
Reagan defended his position by explaining that American investment in South Africa amounts to 1% or less of the total investment in the country and that economic sanctions would therefore have only minimal impact on the government.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, appearing on a worldwide television broadcast sponsored by the U.S. government, said that withdrawing investments from South Africa would signal “moral despair” that might temporarily satisfy foes of apartheid, but that the United States would then be “stripped bare” of its ability to influence the Pretoria regime.
Lauds U.S. Firms’ Role
Echoing that argument, White House spokesman Larry Speakes credited American firms conducting business in South Africa with doing “more than anyone else to raise the level of governmental participation” in bringing economic benefits and education to the black population.
“And that’s why our position on sanctions is as it is,” Speakes said.
In Ottawa, Vice President George Bush played the same theme. He told a news conference Friday that while the Reagan Administration disdains apartheid and opposes South Africa’s actions to remove dissent, “it has not favored disengagement, nor do I see any change in that policy.”
Bush, in Canada to discuss trade problems with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, added that the United States still follows a strategy of “constructive engagement” with the Pretoria government because it has resulted in some “progress” and because change is more likely to result from talk than from cutting off contact.
‘Need to Stay Engaged’
“We’re not going to proclaim such a policy dead, we’re not going to disengage. . . . We need to stay engaged,” he said.
Despite the Administration’s tough public stand against sanctions, White House officials confided privately that, if the violence in South Africa continues to escalate, Reagan may be forced to adopt more concrete measures in dealing with the Pretoria government.
“The support for sanctions has grown steadily on the Hill, and I don’t know how long the Administration can withstand that pressure,” said an official who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
Faced with a similar outcry from Congress last year, the Administration adopted a number of modest punitive measures, including a ban on the sale of computers to the South African government. Speakes maintained that there had been “some movement” by the government since then but declined to be specific.
House Panel Acted
The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 26 to 14 earlier in the week to ban all new private U.S. investment in South Africa.
“It’s my sense that there aren’t many arrows left in the Administration’s quiver if it wants to bring about change in South Africa,” said Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), a member of the committee.
While Leach agreed with Reagan that there are “many valid arguments against economic sanctions,” he said the Administration is running out of time and options in its effort to influence Pretoria.
The situation in South Africa has grown more critical in recent days in anticipation of Monday’s 10th anniversary of the uprising at Soweto, a black township outside of Johannesburg. The day has become “a symbol of black aspirations for freedom, equal rights and full political participation,” Reagan said in his statement.
The latest state of emergency imposed by the Pretoria government allowed police to arrest without warrant an estimated 1,200 anti-apartheid activists, people who would be expected to organize demonstrations to mark the Soweto anniversary.
Times staff writer Kenneth Freed, in Ottawa, contributed to this article.