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It's time to risk against against lingering apartheid.

Recent developments in South Africa offer the best hope yet that the country is well on its way down the road to democracy, despite some persistent potholes of apartheid.

"The countdown to democracy in South Africa has begun," African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela said Sept. 24, as he urged the United Nations to lift economic sanctions against his country.

Since then others have echoed this call to action, and rightly so. The ailing economy seems only to prolong the despair there.

The U.S. Senate, hard on the heels of Mandela's U.N. address, enacted legislation to repeal the remaining federal sanctions. President Clinton also urged removal of sanctions on state and local levels, where laws restricting trade and investment remain. He said a trade mission to South Africa is forthcoming.

As South Africa takes steps toward democracy, there is renewed interest among U.S. businesses for future investment. This interest, however, is not translating into immediate action.

With the exception of some communications companies, many big businesses in the United States are reluctant to take a chance there. According to The Wall Street Journal, several companies have expressed wariness, citing among other things South Africa's depressed economy and the remaining restrictions in state, city and local governments.

Big business is not alone in its apprehension. Although various church groups, including South Africa's Catholic and Anglican bishops, support lifting the sanctions, the World Council of Churches has responded with more caution, saying it will likely review its policy supporting sanctions when it meets in Johannesburg next January.

The WCC cited "its deep concern" over legislation providing the framework for the April 1994 elections, approved recently by the South African Parliament. The legislation, the WCC said, "effectively excludes millions of South Africans in the so-called homelands from participation in the first multiracial elections."

Roads to democracy are always rough going. And in South Africa there are roadblocks at just about every turn. Pervasive violence in many black townships remains a cause for grave concern.

The Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, with its long-standing violent rivalry with the ANC, is crying out for autonomy for its followers. Likewise, right-wing Afrikaners--fearing the future prospect of black rule -- want to establish a semiautonomous white homeland encompassing 16 percent of South Africa's territory as a homeland.

Mandela met privately with these pro-apartheid Afrikaners recently. And while he said an "ethnic solution" is out of the question, he did not rule out compromise.

Political maneuvering alone will not dispel the vestiges of apartheid. South Africa's bruised economy, conditions of desperation and lack of tolerance will die hard unless the challenges of true reconciliation, reconstruction and dialogue are met by all its people.

Lifting sanctions prematurely would be risky, even with leaders like Mandela on the scene. But if South Africa is going to go on lurching down that potholed road to democracy, it is time to take that risk.
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Title Annotation:lifting economic sanctions from South Africa
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 8, 1993
Words:483
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