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Jamming a Signal

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives are right in marshaling votes to override President Reagan’s veto of the sanctions legislation. Indeed, the President himself, in his veto message, gave the best argument for seeing to it that this legislation is passed: “To send a clear signal to the South African government that the American people view with abhorrence its codified system of racial segregation.”

Reagan refused to approve this “signal” on the ground that it contains “sweeping and punitive sanctions” that would make black workers “the first victims.” His reading does not agree with ours. The legislation that emerged in Congress is a calm and collected compromise put together largely by Senate Republicans who were, quite correctly, alarmed at the extreme measure that had been constructed in an emotion-driven debate on the House floor. The real question is whether it goes far enough to make the South African government sit up and listen, to understand that it cannot do business as usual while continuing to resist the fundamental reforms so evidently needed now.

The President put into place in his first days in office his constructive-engagement policy with South Africa. It has pleased this country’s extreme right--a group that thinks that a minority white government can somehow serve as an anti-communist bastion. And the policy has pleased Pretoria as well--buoying its defiance of world demands for fundamental reforms and supporting its strategy to postpone independence for Namibia, the last African colony. Furthermore, Reagan has engaged the Central Intelligence Agency in waging war at the side of the South African army against the government of Angola.

With its override votes, the House and Senate can at least make clear to the people of Southern Africa that Americans are with them in their struggle for justice and democracy.

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