U.N. Holds Meeting on S. Africa : Jackson, Belafonte Assail U.S. Conference Boycott
The U.S. government did not show up Monday for the opening of the U.N. Conference on Sanctions Against South Africa, but black American leaders Jesse Jackson and Harry Belafonte attended and made stinging attacks on the Reagan Administration, which they accused of supporting the racist policies of South Africa.
Jackson said the United States would have shown “some sense of humanity, some sense of care” if it had not boycotted the conference, as did South Africa’s other two principal trading partners, Britain and West Germany. Belafonte, the singer who has taken an active role in the movement for sanctions against South Africa, described President Reagan as “morally bankrupt, with racist attitudes.”
“Ronald Reagan will weep at the grave of Nazi fascists,” Belafonte told reporters, recalling the President’s visit to the West German military grave at Bitburg last year, “but he has no compassion for the children killed in Soweto.”
Heart and Problem
In a sense, the attacks on the absent U.S. government reflected the heart and problem of the conference. The United Nations sponsored the meeting to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the uprising by students in Soweto, the black township outside Johannesburg. Worldwide indignation over the South African government’s declaration of a national state of emergency last week has attracted more attention to the conference.
But the conference’s recommendations will have little standing. They are not legally binding. Also, sanctions would be meaningless unless the United States, Britain and West Germany joined in them.
As a result, much of the rhetoric on the opening day was directed at the three absent governments. And many delegates knew that activities elsewhere--the meeting of foreign ministers from the European Communities in Luxembourg, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, Commonwealth pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain--would have far more influence on the future of sanctions than all the talk here.
But that did not dampen the rhetoric. In an emotional address to the conference, Jackson, who came as an official guest, denounced the Western countries for “pumping the oxygen of foreign capital into the dying body-politic of South Africa.”
Accusing the United States of “a sleazy partnership with despotism and state terrorism” in South Africa, Jackson said: “The United States, Britain and the Western allies can do without apartheid. Apartheid cannot do without America and the Western democratic allies.”
Later, at a news conference with Jackson, Belafonte castigated Reagan in bitter tones. He said he would not join with diplomats whom he described as muting their criticism of the Reagan Administration’s policy on South Africa out of fear of offending the United States.
“Ronald Reagan knows exactly what he is doing,” Belafonte said. “He is morally bankrupt, with racist attitudes. I think he believes life in the Third World is expendable. . . . It is a charade, it is silly to look to Ronald Reagan to do anything (about sanctions).”
The countries that stayed away were also criticized by Nigerian Ambassador Joseph Garba, chairman of the U.N. Special Committee Against Apartheid. Garba said the Western powers “lack the political will to act decisively against apartheid.”
Shridath Ramphal, secretary general of the Commonwealth, also described the boycott as an error. He said it confirmed that the absent governments were “in complicity with apartheid.”
But Ramphal cautioned against rhetoric that ignores reality. A Commonwealth delegation called the “Eminent Persons Group on South Africa” recommended last week that the members of the Commonwealth impose economic sanctions on South Africa.
Ramphal is trying to persuade the reluctant Prime Minister Thatcher of Britain to impose some sanctions but knows that these would be at most limited.
Ramphal said that it will not be helpful if the only thing that comes out of the conference are blanket, rather than specific, sanctions that are labeled mandatory but unenforceable.