It's Time To Reward Reform In South Africa

Although it was passed by Congress over a Presidential veto, the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act proved to be a powerful foreign policy initiative that effectively reinforced international moral outrage at South Africa's racist practices. Under the leadership of President F. W. de Klerk, the Pretoria government has now moved faster and further toward dismantling apartheid than anyone thought possible a few short years ago.

European nations have already recognized this by lifting most of their sanctions against South Africa, with the result that many foreign companies are actively preparing for the resumption of business in that country. Since de Klerk has now met all of the conditions laid down by U. S. law, including the accelerated release of political prisoners, George Bush's decision to lift sanctions is both fair and correct.

Although South Africa's black majority has not yet secured its democratic aspirations, the process is well under way. The continuing negotiations between the African National Congress and Pretoria need the momentum that the prospect of increased economic activity can help provide. That is why the ANC itself has been courting businesses to revive investment and provide jobs.

The problem is that lifting federal sanctions against South Africa seems an empty gesture in light of the 28 states and 92 cities with similar prohibitions on their books. As long as that situation continues, companies that stopped doing business in South Africa (including McGraw-Hill Inc., publisher of BUSINESS WEEK) may be slow to rethink their positions. Fifteen months after Namibia gained independence, for example, some cities still retain laws that discriminate against U. S. companies that do business there.

Although states and cities may regard their sanctions as leverage on Pretoria to follow through on the dismantling of apartheid in the months ahead, there is a clear risk that such laws could overstay their usefulness and actually hinder reform. If the U. S. is to retain competitiveness and advance the healing process in South Africa, state and local officials must be prepared to follow Washington in quickly scaling back sanctions as progress toward democracy continues.