US policy toward South Africa over the past year followed the trend set during President Bush's first year in office. That policy differed markedly from the "constructive engagement" of former President Reagan and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker, in that Bush Administration officials were more vocal in their criticism of the South African government. And, whereas the Reagan Administration fought a policy of sanctions against South Africa,158 the Bush Administration made no attempt to lift sanctions, stating publicly that the South African government failed to meet the conditions in the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.
Despite these welcome differences in US policy towards South Africa, the Bush Administration did not address specifically the critical issue of South African security forces' involvement in the spiraling township violence. Various official statements by Administration officials, both in Washington and at the US Embassy in Pretoria failed to link the South African authorities to the violence, and even the otherwise excellent State Department Country Report on Human Rights was marred by a failure to make the connection explicit.
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The Bush Administration's reluctance to address the issue of South African police involvement in the violence might be seen in the following exchange between the press and State Department spokesperson, Margaret Tutwiler. She went to some lengths to avoid identifying the specific parties to the violence, or the South African government role. Excerpts from the July 23, 1990 briefing follow:
Unfortunately, Ms. Tutwiler's protestantions notwithstanding, Africa Watch is unaware of any public pronouncements by the State Department or the US Administration that comment upon, much less criticize, the activities of the South African security forces in deliberately provoking, facilitating, or failing to prevent violence between Inkatha and the ANC/UDF. On January 14, 1991, for example, when Africa Watch asked whether the State Department would release a statement regarding the surge in violence on January 12 and 13, in which at least 75 were killed in two separate incidents in the Transvaal, a Bush Administration official said that no statement was anticipated, because "we don't always comment on a country's internal affairs."
A significant opportunity to raise such concerns forcefully and publicly would have been the September visit to Washington by South African President de Klerk. De Klerk's visit was the first by a South African president in 45 years, and provided him a significant measure of international legitimization. It came at a time when township violence was at its height, and, indeed, South Africans expressed the hope that the issue be raised with de Klerk by the US. The ANC called for international attention to de Klerk's imposition of a curfew, which they criticized as a means of giving "license to the police to hunt people as if they are game." And Nelson Mandela called upon the United States to ask why de Klerk was allowing his security forces to play a role in promoting violence between the ANC and Inkatha.159
The Bush Administration did not avail itself of the opportunity of President de Klerk's visit to condemn the role of the authorities in contributing to the violence. As Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, stated, "[t]he main United States objective for the visit was to congratulate President de Klerk for his bold and courageous initiatives to bring about fundamental change in South Africa and to express American government support for the process that he has established leading to the inevitable dismantling of apartheid."160 US support for de Klerk's policy of dismantling apartheid was indeed appropriate. Yet the enormity of the violence at the time of the visit──there were 750 violent deaths in the Johannesburg area alone in the preceding two months──called for a stronger statement of concern than the one given by the President.
According to Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen, "President Bush expressed concern about the growing violence in South Africa and urged President de Klerk to fulfill his responsibilities to maintain law and order. President de Klerk said that he has increased resources devoted to law and order ... and that he assured President Bush that the fight against violence is being carried out by the security forces in an impartial manner." Secretary Cohen's answers to the press suggested that discussion of the issue between the two presidents had been limited, noting that "[t]hey did not go into a detailed discussion about the causes of violence," and that President de Klerk had identified "extremists resorting to violence on both sides of the spectrum" for the violence.161
While President Bush's expression of concern about the violence is commendable, it would have been enhanced if the President himself or his spokespeople had identified the South African government's obligation to uncover and punish the perpetrators of violence within the security forces. For his part, South African Foreign Minister R.F. Botha took the occasion a of Washington press conference during the de Klerk visit to congratulate the South African police, noting that "... I think I owe it to those policemen today to say here in Washington, we have an appreciation for what they are doing."162
The 1989 State Department Country Reports on Human Rights addressed the issue of township violence, though in keeping with the Bush Administration's general policy, tended to avoid explicitly linking the security forces to it. The report accurately described the violence as one of the most serious problems facing South Africa and emphasized the high number of deaths in the fighting.
The Report noted that "The causes of this violence are many, including the power struggle between Inkatha and the UDF/COSATU; desires for personal revenge; attempts to save family and possessions from harm; frustration over inferior schools and other facilities for blacks; and resentment of police, black and white." The Report appropriately observed that detentions of alleged participants had been almost exclusively UDF activists, "with no known detentions of vigilantes or Inkatha members" and cited human rights observers concerns that South African security forces' "tactic support to conservative black vigilante groups, in both the homelands and the townships."
These welcome references to the problem would have been enhanced if the State Department had included more specific reference to the South African authorities logistical support, provocation, or failure to prevent violence, or if Inkatha had been named in addition to the reference to "conservative black vigilante groups." The Report would have also been strengthened if the State Department had used its own voice in observing the relationship between the security forces and the vigilante groups.
158The US Congress enacted a comprehensive sanctions bill in 1986, overriding a presidential veto of the measure.
159David Ottaway, "ANC Accuses de Klerk of Bad Faith," Washington Post, September 21, 1990.
160White House Readout Following the Visit of President de Klerk with President Bush, September 24, 1990.
161Ann Devroy, "Bush: South African Reforms Irreversible," The Washington Post, September 25, 1990.
162 Press Conference with South African Foreign Minister, September 24, 1990.