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Letter to the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader on the Economic Sanctions Against South Africa

September 29, 1986

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. Majority Leader:)

I understand and share the very strong feelings and sense of frustration in the Congress and in our Nation about apartheid, an unconscionable system that we all reject. The ongoing tragedy in South Africa tests our resolve as well as our patience. None of us wants to aggravate that tragedy.

In the last several months, the South African Government, instead of moving further down the once promising path of reform and dialogue, has turned to internal repression. We all know that South Africa's real problem traces to the perpetuation of apartheid. And we know that the solution to this problem can only be found in lifting the present State of Emergency, repealing all racially discriminatory laws, releasing political prisoners, and unbanning political parties—necessary steps opening the way for negotiations aimed at creating a new, democratic order for all South Africans. The South African Government holds the key to the opening of such negotiations. Emerging from discussion among South Africans, we want to see a democratic system in which the rights of majorities, minorities, and individuals are protected by a bill of rights and firm constitutional guarantees. We will be actively pursuing diplomatic opportunities and approaches in an effort to start a movement toward negotiations in South Africa.

I outlined in my message to the House of Representatives on Friday my reasons for vetoing the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, principally my opposition to punitive sanctions that harm the victims of apartheid and my desire to work in concert with our Allies. I also indicated in that message that I am prepared to sign an expanded Executive order that strongly signals our rejection of apartheid and our desire to actively promote rapid positive change in South Africa. I am prepared to expand the range of restrictions and other measures that will characterize our relations with South Africa. There would be strong sanctions in my new order, sanctions that I earnestly wish were unnecessary. These sanctions, directed at the enforcers not the victims of apartheid, encompass measures recently adopted by many of our Allies, as well as many elements of the original Senate Committee version of the bill. They are incontestably necessary in today's circumstances. My intention is to make it plain to South Africa's leaders that we cannot conduct business-as-usual with a government that mistakes the silence of racial repression for the consent of the governed.

My new Executive order will, therefore, reaffirm and incorporate the measures I imposed last year (i.e., bans on loans to the South African Government and its agencies, all exports of computers to apartheid-enforcing entities and the military and police, all nuclear exports except those related to health, safety, and IAEA programs, imports of South African weapons, the import of Krugerrands, and a requirement for all U.S. firms to apply fair labor standards based on the Sullivan principles).

The Executive order will also add:

—a ban on new investments other than those in black-owned firms or companies applying the fair labor standards of the Sullivan principles;

—a ban on the import from South Africa of iron and steel;

—a ban on bank accounts for the South African Government and its agencies;

—a requirement to identify countries taking unfair advantage of U.S. measures against South Africa with a view to restricting their exports to the United States by the amount necessary to compensate for the loss to U.S. companies;

—a requirement to report and make recommendations on means of reducing U.S. dependence on strategic minerals from southern Africa;

—a requirement to provide at least $25 million in assistance for scholarships, education, community development, and legal aid to disadvantaged South Africans with a prohibition on such assistance to any group or individual who has been engaged in gross violation of internationally recognized human rights;

—the imposition of severe criminal and civil penalties under several statutes for violation of the provisions of my Executive order;

—a requirement to consult with Allies in order to coordinate policies and programs toward South Africa;

—a requirement to report on whether any of these prohibitions has had the effect of increasing U.S. or allied dependence on the Soviet bloc for strategic or other critical materials, with a view to appropriate modifications of U.S. measures under my Executive order should such dependency have been increased;

—and a clear statement that the Executive order constitutes a complete and comprehensive statement of U.S. policy toward South Africa, with the intent of preempting inconsistent State and local laws which under our Constitution may be preempted.

Sanctions, in and of themselves, do not add up to a policy for South Africa and the southern Africa region. Positive steps as well as negative signals are necessary. This unusually complex and interrelated part of the world is one that cries out for better understanding and sympathy on our part. We must consider what we can do to contribute to development of healthy economies and democratic institutions throughout the region and to help those who are the victims of apartheid.

Following the Congress' lead and building on existing programs, I plan to expand our assistance to those suffering the cost of apartheid and to help blacks as they prepare to play their full role in a free South Africa. We spent $20 million in FY 86 and have requested $25 million in FY 87. We will do more, much of it along the lines incorporated in the South Africa bill.

I am also committed to present to the next Congress a comprehensive multi-year program designed to promote economic reform and development in the black-ruled states of southern Africa. We intend to seek the close collaboration of Japan and our European allies in this constructive effort. Our goal is to create a sound basis for a post-apartheid region—a southern Africa where democracy and respect for fundamental human rights can flourish.

I believe the United States can assist responsibly in resolving southern Africa's tragic dilemma. Many observers in and outside South Africa regard present trends with despair, seeing in them a bloody inevitability as positions harden over the central question of political power. This is a grim scenario that allows no free choice and offers a racial civil war as the only solution. It need not be so if wisdom and imagination prevail.

South Africans continue to search for solutions. Their true friends should help in this search. As I have said before, our humanitarian concerns and our other national interests converge in South Africa as in few other countries. With the actions I propose today, I believe it is clear that my Administration's intentions and those of the Congress are identical. May we unite so that U.S. foreign policy can be effective in bringing people of good will and imagination in South Africa together to rebuild a better, just, and democratic tomorrow.



Note: Identical letters were sent to Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Robert Dole, Senate Majority Leader.

Ronald Reagan, Letter to the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader on the Economic Sanctions Against South Africa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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