Courtesy Reuters

Africa: Year of Ironies

President Reagan’s sweep of 49 of the 50 states in the November 1984 elections set in motion mutations within both the Republican and Democratic Parties that have substantially affected U.S. relations with Africa.

The mushrooming of groups and individuals in the coalition known as the Free South Africa Movement is ascribed by its founder, TransAfrica’s Randall Robinson, to a post-election assessment that a very daring gamble was the only hope of keeping anti-apartheid activism alive in the face of another four years of "constructive engagement." On another front, the congressional leaders of the shattered Democratic Party seized upon apartheid as the most promising issue for drawing Jesse Jackson’s constituency and other blacks sidelined during the campaign back into the party’s mainstream. The 35 Republican congressmen who dispatched a sharply worded letter of protest against Pretoria’s racial policies to South African Ambassador B. G. Fourie in December 1984 were at least partially motivated by a new belief that it was historically and practically shortsighted for the Republicans to concede the black vote and the civil rights constituency as a given to the Democratic Party.

The introduction into Congress between January and September 1985 of 41 separate bills, amendments and resolutions dealing with South Africa is indicative of the extent to which legislators with their fingers on the public pulse recognize the importance of having gone on record on the apartheid issue before they face their electorates in 1986 or 1988. An executive order of September 9 imposing limited sanctions on South Africa achieved its intended effect of sidetracking the congressional steamroller (at least temporarily), with the additional irony that the invoking of sanctions by President Reagan personally was a greater psychological blow to the government of President P. W. Botha than stronger congressional actions would have been.

In another of the ironies that puzzle foreign observers of America’s Africa policy, a major battle of the Potomac throughout 1985 was the offensive launched by the conservative wing of the Republican Party against what it views as the

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