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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

From 24 September 1993, Journal of Commerce, Lucy Komisar, "S. African Sanctions: A Success"

When Congress repeals economic sanctions against South Africa in answer to the call today by the African National Congress, it will mark the victory of a 20- year American grass-roots campaign that contributed mightily to the peaceful overthrow of a repressive system abroad.

That campaign was started by activists from the American Committee on Africa, by students and by other human rights idealists who had cut their teeth on the 1960s civil rights movement. It was picked up by local politicians, doggedly pressed by some in Congress and finally made law over a president's eto. Now that sanctions are going, it is appropriate to look back.

The sanctions movement grew slowly, beginning with demands that banks stop making loans in South Africa. "Apartheid has a friend at Chase Manhattan," proclaimed signs at the Chase annual meeting in 1967. Protesters got universities and cities to cancel accounts at Chase and other offending banks. Later, they demanded companies stop trading and pull out their subsidiaries.

However, even by the late 1970s, Brooklyn Rep. Sephen Solarz, then chairing the House Africa subcommittee, got little backing for sanctions from either Congress or the Carter administration, which wanted South African help to solve regional problems. President Reagan tilted toward Pretoria and opposed sanctions as an article of faith.

The banks finally responded to public pressure in 1985 when Chase led a massive withdrawal. Then on Oct. 2, 1986, after two years of internationally televised, violently suppressed black protests that roused the American public, the U.S. Senate voted to override Mr. Reagan's veto and make law what South Africans called "the C Triple-A," the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.

The law banned new investments and loans, restricted trade, ended commercial air links and authorized aid to the victims of apartheid. It banned the import of coal, uranium, steel, textiles and farm products, but didn't affect gold, diamonds or strategic materials, nor did it require disinvestment. The banner headline in the Johannesburg "Star" the next day was: "Whites stunned, blacks welcome tough U.S. move. South Africa braces for sanctions."

The European Community, the Commonwealth, Japan and Canada adopted less sweeping sanctions.

The pressure didn't move South African President P.W. Botha, who ran the country with an iron hand. When the biggest Afrikaner industrialist urged him to adopt reforms to head off sanctions, he replied, "You're giving me a choice. If we don't do these things, we'll be poorer, and if we do them, we will lose control. You and I have both lived poor and we can live poor again, but we cannot lose control." He called on whites to defy the world.

Then in 1989, Mr. Botha suffered a stroke. Regional party leader F.W. De Klerk was elected party leader and then president. He had been Mr. Botha's interior minister and was known as hard-line and xenophobic. But he was of a younger generation and willing to listen to advisers who showed him a worldwide network of sanctions, particularly financial ones, that was strangling the economy. The country could sell its exports more cheaply through markets such as Taiwan and South Korea, and it could buy goods more dearly through third parties, but it couldn't get capital. The situation worsened when the price of gold collapsed.

Businessmen told Mr. De Klerk that without foreign capital, there would be no growth. Since 1980, a million people had joined the unemployment roles every four years. As things stood, there would be another million jobless every two years, a threat to social and political stability and a disaster for whites as well as blacks by the end of the century.

Even if the government could cope with isolation and sanctions, there was no way, without the ANC, to deal with millions of blacks who lacked jobs, proper schooling and housing, and who demanded political rights.

In October 1989, Mr. De Klerk freed ANC leader Walter Sisulu and seven other black leaders. Still, the Bush administration acknowledged in its annual report to Congress that there had been no significant actions to end apartheid. U.S. sanctions would stand. The heads of state of Germany, Italy and Portugal told Mr. De Klerk they would love to lift sanctions, but they couldn't till the political situation was sorted out.

Finally, at his opening speech to parliament on Feb. 2, 1990, Mr. De Klerk said apartheid would end. He would release ANC Chairman Nelson Mandela and unban the ANC. A week later, Mr. Mandela was freed.

International sanctions alone aren't causing apartheid's end. That wouldn't have happened without a strong, internal black movement and a new, moderate, white political leadership that cared about economic development. But sanctions played a critical role. The context should help policy-makers understand when economic sanctions can work. And the results should gratify the handful of activists who 26 years ago picketed a bank.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.