Liberals in Congress, disappointed by the results of limited economic sanctions imposed against Pretoria's white-minority government in 1986, are mounting a new effort to legislate an end to almost all American business dealings in South Africa.
As an initial step in the process, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a panel dominated by liberal Democrats, is expected to approve legislation today that would ban virtually all U.S. trade with--as well as investment in--South Africa within a year. The measure is patterned on a bill originally sponsored by California Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Berkeley).
Proponents argue that stringent new sanctions are necessary because the existing law has not been fully enforced by President Reagan, nor has it had any visible impact on the apartheid policies of the South African regime of President Pieter W. Botha.
In fact, in the two years since limited sanctions were enacted by Congress over Reagan's veto, the Botha government has virtually eliminated news coverage of black protests and banned the activities of leading anti-apartheid groups.
"The situation in South Africa has continued to deteriorate, and we have an obligation to continue the pressure," Dellums said. "I don't think the Administration ought to be let off the hook on this."
Further, Dellums hopes that renewed congressional debate of sanctions will help to make U.S. policy toward South Africa an issue in the 1988 presidential campaign. "This should be on the front burner of national foreign policy," he said.
Nevertheless, the drive for strict sanctions is expected to encounter opposition from Administration officials and Republicans in Congress, including such influential moderates as Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.). Without some GOP support, it is unlikely that Congress can enact new sanctions legislation over another presidential veto.
Lugar, who was instrumental in engineering passage of limited sanctions two years ago, rejects the Dellums approach as too radical--what he views as "a manifesto that all is lost so you simply cut off every tie."
He argues that it would be a mistake for the United States to sever economic ties with South Africa now, especially since Botha recently proposed giving blacks a limited role in selecting the president. Such a move would only reinforce the complaint of many South Africans "that we pay no attention to what they do there," he said.
As drafted by members of two subcommittees last week, the sanctions legislation under consideration in the House Foreign Affairs Committee would give American firms up to one year to dispose of their holdings in South Africa. The ban on direct and indirect trade would take effect 180 days after enactment, although the President could approve a one-time extension of 180 days in some cases.
In addition, it bans shipment of petroleum products to South Africa in U.S. vessels; denies oil and mineral leases to any company that does business with South Africa; prohibits cooperation between U.S. and South African intelligence and military agencies; requires the President to impose sanctions on other countries that take advantage of the U.S. measures and authorizes $40 million a year to assist blacks in South Africa. The trade ban contains one major exemption, however, by allowing importation of strategic minerals.
The subcommittee draft, which is expected to be adopted virtually unchanged by the full committee, is significantly stronger than the law that was enacted with bipartisan support two years ago over Reagan's veto. Current law curtailed new investment in South Africa but did not require U.S. firms to leave. It also prohibited importation of specific commodities such as coal, steel and agriculture products.
Although their differences are many, both sides in the debate agree that the sanctions have not succeeded in persuading the South African government to make significant concessions in its discriminatory policies toward the blacks.
Opponents argue that the sanctions failed because no amount of economic pressure can force the South African government to take steps that are opposed by the majority of white citizens. In addition, they argue that strict sanctions hurt black workers more than the white elite.
According to Lugar, the 1986 sanctions were never intended to be more than a symbolic gesture. "The whole purpose was to try to get the attention of South Africa," he said.
But the liberals contend that the sanctions failed because they were simply too weak, affecting less than one-third of the trade between the two countries.
"The sanctions bill we passed two years ago was really overrated," said Dellums. "Not only were they watered down, but enforcement of the law by this Administration has been half-hearted at best."
According to Dellums and other liberals, the Reagan Administration undermined the 1986 legislation by writing regulations to implement the law that were weaker than Congress had intended.
For example, critics say, the regulations effectively circumvented the law's ban on importing iron by failing to extend it to ferroalloys. Iron is almost always combined in alloy form with other metals, and imports of the alloy were permitted.
A similar regulation weakened what liberals had expected to be a total ban on importing South African uranium.
Likewise, critics claim the Administration undercut the ban on U.S. bank loans to South Africa by defining the exemption for "short-term" financing to include indebtedness of up to one year. As a result, it is estimated that as of last September, South Africa received nearly $2 million in credits.
Although the 1986 sanctions only banned new investment, many U.S. firms have pulled out of South Africa since they were enacted. Nevertheless, some of the formerly U.S.-owned plants continue to operate under a franchise arrangement. For example, former Ford and General Motors subsidiaries act as distributors for the U.S. firms, both of which have pulled out.
Even if the Foreign Affairs Committee rejects Republican efforts to weaken the bill, as expected, supporters acknowledge that it probably cannot be enacted by Congress in its current form. Some commodities are expected to be exempted from the trade ban when the bill reaches the House floor, and supporters expect they will be forced to make further concessions to get legislation through the Senate.
In the Senate, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Lowell P. Weicker (R-Conn.) and Paul Simon (D-Ill.) are known to be interested in offering their own version of a new sanctions bill, but no measure has yet been drafted. Sources said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not likely to consider any such legislation until after the Senate ratifies the U.S.-Soviet Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.