Zimbabweans Cheer Pope’s Arrival : John Paul Takes Aim at Apartheid on 1st Leg of Africa Tour

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Embarking on a pilgrimage to five black-ruled southern African nations, Pope John Paul II on Saturday called economic sanctions “acceptable” as a last resort to end apartheid in white-ruled South Africa.

On his fourth visit to Africa, and the 39th foreign trip in his 10 years as leader of the world’s 850 million Roman Catholics, the Pope will see firsthand some of young Africa’s triumphs and tragedies.

Before returning to Rome on Sept. 19, John Paul will pray in a dissimilar pair of Marxist states, prospering Zimbabwe and war-torn Mozambique; in two tiny kingdoms, Lesotho and Swaziland, and in diamond-rich Botswana, an African democratic model.

Contentious South Africa, whose commanding presence weighs heavily on its hostile black neighbors, is conspicuous by its absence from the papal itinerary.


Greeted by Native Dancers

Flag-waving women in long cotton skirts and chanting, spear-waving folkloric dancers in grass skirts greeted John Paul here Saturday on a cool and cloudless afternoon. Blacks and whites mixed amicably to cheer the Pope as he rode to town along a route splashed by the purple blossoms of jacaranda trees.

Under President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe--the defiant British colony of Southern Rhodesia until 1980--is Marxist but measured, and its economy is highly advanced by African standards.

A white minority of about 100,000 in the nation of 8.4 million plays a dominant role in the business community, and Zimbabwe’s manufacturing industry is one of the strongest in black-ruled Africa.


Greeting the Pope at airport ceremonies Saturday, Mugabe told John Paul that he hoped “your visit will add a little more weight to the pressures we are trying to exert on the Pretoria regime.”

Mugabe strongly advocates anti-apartheid sanctions but has backed away from imposing them unilaterally because of the severe economic toll such a move would take on Zimbabwe.

Stress ‘Spiritual Renewal’

In a region where Catholics are a minority, the Pope will stress “spiritual renewal at every level of the church,” but en route here he spoke mostly about South Africa in response to lengthy questioning in five languages by 70 reporters aboard the papal plane.


“Economic sanctions are a political method. From the moral point of view, they are acceptable in some situations,” the Pope said, adding, “I think there should be a search for solutions that are less imposed and more worthy of man.”

In the United States, a bill that would impose a near-total trade embargo against South Africa has been approved by the House and is now before the Senate. But the measure is opposed by the White House, which says sanctions would be counterproductive.

In South Africa, where most Catholics are black, John Paul’s bishops also are wary about sanctions, fearing they would hit hardest against black families least able to defend themselves.

Neither the bishops nor their Pope, though, spare any ammunition when it comes to apartheid. Emphasizing his church’s longstanding opposition to South Africa’s strict racial separation, John Paul said Saturday that it poses a moral question.


“It is necessary to understand the principles of human dignity and human equality,” John Paul told The Times. “A racist vision of human inequality cannot be continued.”

In an address here Saturday evening to 71 bishops from southern Africa, including those from South Africa, John Paul urged the prelates to seek “the replacement of that policy (of apartheid) with one consistent with justice and love.”

Calling for a dialogue “sustained by prayer,” the Pope told the bishops: “You must be fully convinced that only a negotiated settlement of differences can bring true peace and justice. A loss of confidence in the possibility of a peaceful solution could easily lead to further frustration and violence, increasing the threat to peace.”

John Paul said he has prayed daily for South Africa to release black activist leader Nelson R. Mandela from jail.


Although it at first seemed that South Africa was a calculated omission from his trip, the Vatican in recent days has done a lot of backing and filling in the wake of widespread protests from South African Catholics who feel slighted.

John Paul would like to visit his flock there, Vatican officials say, but not at the cost of having a papal trip branded as something more political than pastoral. Given his well-known and oft-expressed abhorrence for apartheid, that aim is not easily achieved, the officials say.

There is lively debate and open division among South African bishops over the advisability of such a papal visit, but John Paul made plain Saturday that sooner or later he intends to make one.